Scroll to Content

Pot impresario is back, growing a retail chain

This city has its own Prince of Pot, cannabis promoter Marc Emery. But he’s minor royalty next to Don Briere. Or Donald Joseph Briere, as he’s known inside the Canadian justice and penal systems. He was once this country’s most prolific marijuana producer and distributor, with 33 illegal growing operations hidden across B.C. In the late 1990s, before an informant ratted them out to police, Briere and his cohorts were growing and selling two tonnes of pot annually. “That’s a lot of weed,” he laughs. “We were outlaws. My share was $5-million a year.”

He made B.C. bud famous. And he paid a price. Briere was convicted in 2001 on charges that included drug cultivation, possession for the purpose of trafficking and possession of a prohibited firearm. He was sentenced to four years in prison. While on parole in 2004, he was busted again, this time for running an illegal marijuana shop on Vancouver’s hipster high street, Commercial Drive. For that blatant infraction, he was convicted and sentenced to another 2.5 years behind bars.

Briere is now 63, and with all the legal hassles and two heart attacks behind him, one might think he’d have retirement in mind. Far from it. The irrepressible pot impresario is back in the marijuana trade, making his mark in retail.

He’s selling potent cannabis products from a chain of eight stores he has opened – and has managed to keep open, despite admitting he sells his product for ”recreational” use – over the past 20 months in Vancouver. Weeds Glass and Gifts does a brisk business.

He’s got six more shops on the way, including new outlets in Surrey, North Vancouver, Whistler and Sechelt, a vacation paradise just up the coast. Briere says he’s also looking at potential stores in Toronto and Montreal.

These aren’t dimly lit backrooms where shifty-eyed dealers slip greasy dime bags into the pockets of nervous adolescents. Business is conducted openly, inside shops on busy streets. They have regular store hours.

The products are fresh and plentiful. The quality is consistent, and so, he hopes, is the customer experience.

He’s hired a full-time accountant, and recently took on a young Vancouver lawyer, Ian Ramage, who now serves as the chain’s vice-president of operations and in-house counsel.

On a recent morning visit to Briere’s flagship store in downtown Vancouver, customers selected bags of dried marijuana and edible cannabis products from dozens of trays. One fellow paid $5 for a heavy hit of highly concentrated cannabis oil, served from the store’s “dabber bar.” In the back office, Briere used a microscope to examine new product. “Quality control,” he explained.

Officially, Weeds sells marijuana to people with medical needs only. Customers are required to obtain a membership card; for that, they must produce a note from a qualified health service provider, confirming they have a legitimate ailment – from multiple sclerosis to insomnia to headaches – that might be soothed with cannabis. Weeds employees will refer potential, non-card holding customers aged 19 or older to a local naturopath.

Weeds doesn’t yet own the local market; competition is fierce in Vancouver. There are now 61 so-called medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, according to the Vancouver Police Department, with more opening all the time. Medical marijuana is astonishingly popular, in a city reputed to be a fitness and health leader.

Three years ago, there were just a few dispensaries in Vancouver, and maybe a handful of others in the rest of Canada, says Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, an organization that promotes and aims to regulate the sale of cannabis for medical purposes. Now there are approximately 100 across the country. “There’s been really crazy growth in the last year or two,” she says. “The only thing they have in common is they all dispense cannabis. Some are non-profit and some aren’t.”

None of the Vancouver dispensaries have been issued city business permits. It’s a curious situation: Unlicensed, unregulated marijuana stores operate throughout the city, but few people – aside from prohibitionists, of whom there are almost none anymore – seem concerned.

Vancouver police spokesman Sergeant Randy Fincham says the city takes a “a priority-based approach” to marijuana. Police know where all the pot shops are and they make regular visits, but they won’t consider disturbing an operation unless there’s a complaint made and public safety is at risk. For example, police will intervene if a store sells marijuana to minors, or is deemed unsanitary. Inspectors from Vancouver Coastal Health, the local health authority, and the Vancouver Fire Department also make regular visits to the unlicensed stores.

“We don’t call them dispensaries,” says Sergeant Fincham, acknowledging that the term is, for many outlets, a semantic manoeuvre.

Briere acknowledges that some customers have no medical use for his marijuana, and he agrees that his stores aren’t all about health care. “Of course not,” he says. “We’re setting this up to be recreational, full on recreational.” Making a profit is not his main objective, he insists. But he’s in serious expansion mode, and he’s looking for equity partners.

    The Tim Hortons of cannabis: 63-year-old ‘king’ seeks franchisees to grow his marijuana empireail

    Brian Hutchinson
    Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015

    Don Briere, owner of Weeds Glass and Gifts is pictured outside of his store in Vancouver, B.C., Jan. 27, 2015. Briere’s in serious expansion mode, and he’s looking for equity partners Ben Nelms for National Post

    VANCOUVER — This city has its own Prince of Pot, cannabis promoter Marc Emery. But he’s minor royalty next to Don Briere. Or Donald Joseph Briere, as he’s known inside the Canadian justice and penal systems. He was once this country’s most prolific marijuana producer and distributor, with 33 illegal growing operations hidden across B.C.

    In the late 1990s, before an informant ratted them out to police, Mr. Briere and his cohorts were growing and selling two tonnes of pot annually. “That’s a lot of weed,” he laughs. “We were outlaws. My share was $5-million a year.”

    He made B.C. bud famous. And he paid a price. Mr. Briere was convicted in 2001 on charges that included drug cultivation, possession for the purpose of trafficking and possession of a prohibited firearm. He was sentenced to four years in prison. While on parole in 2004, he was busted again, this time for running an illegal marijuana shop on Vancouver’s hipster high street, Commercial Drive. For that blatant infraction, he was convicted and sentenced to another 2.5 years behind bars.

    Mr. Briere is now 63, and with all the legal hassles and two heart attacks behind him, one might think he’d have retirement in mind. Far from it. The irrepressible pot impresario is back in the marijuana trade, making his mark in retail.

    Don Briere, owner of Weeds Glass and Gifts is pictured inside of his store in Vancouver, B.C. on Jan. 27, 2015. Ben Nelms for National Post

    He’s selling potent cannabis products from a chain of eight stores he has opened — and has managed to keep open, despite admitting he sells his product for “recreational” use — over the past 20 months in Vancouver. Weeds Glass and Gifts does a brisk business.

    He’s got six more shops on the way, including new outlets in Surrey, North Vancouver, Whistler and Sechelt, a vacation paradise just up the coast. Mr. Briere says he’s also looking at potential stores in Toronto and Montreal.

    These aren’t dimly lit backrooms where shifty-eyed dealers slip greasy dime bags into the pockets of nervous adolescents. Business is conducted openly, inside shops on busy streets. They have regular store hours. Mr. Briere compares his Weeds outlets to Tim Hortons Inc., the ubiquitous doughnut and coffee provider. The products are fresh and plentiful. The quality is consistent, and so, he hopes, is the customer experience.

    He’s hired a full-time accountant, and recently took on a young Vancouver lawyer, Ian Ramage, who now serves as the chain’s vice-president of operations and in-house counsel.

    On a recent morning visit to Mr. Briere’s flagship store in downtown Vancouver, customers selected bags of dried marijuana and edible cannabis products from dozens of trays. One fellow paid $5 for a heavy hit of highly concentrated cannabis oil, served from the store’s “dabber bar.” In the back office, Mr. Briere used a microscope to examine new product. “Quality control,” he explained.

    Officially, Weeds sells marijuana to people with medical needs only. Customers are required to obtain a membership card; for that, they must produce a note from a qualified health service provider, confirming they have a legitimate ailment — from multiple sclerosis to insomnia to headaches — that might be soothed with cannabis. Weeds employees will refer potential, non-card holding customers aged 19 or older to a local naturopath.

    Weeds doesn’t yet own the local market; competition is fierce in Vancouver. There are now 61 so-called medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, according to the Vancouver Police Department, with more opening all the time. Medical marijuana is astonishingly popular, in a city reputed to be a fitness and health leader.

    Three years ago, there were just a few dispensaries in Vancouver, and maybe a handful of others in the rest of Canada, says Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, an organization that promotes and aims to regulate the sale of cannabis for medical purposes. Now there are approximately 100 across the country. “There’s been really crazy growth in the last year or two,” she says. “The only thing they have in common is they all dispense cannabis. Some are non-profit and some aren’t.”

    None of the Vancouver dispensaries have been issued city business permits. It’s a curious situation: Unlicensed, unregulated marijuana stores operate throughout the city, but few people — aside from prohibitionists, of whom there are almost none anymore — seem concerned.

    VPD spokesman Sergeant Randy Fincham says the city takes a “a priority-based approach” to marijuana. VPD officers know where all the pot shops are and they make regular visits, but they won’t consider disturbing an operation unless there’s a complaint made and public safety is at risk. For example, police will intervene if a store sells marijuana to minors, or is deemed unsanitary. Inspectors from Vancouver Coastal Health, the local health authority, and the Vancouver Fire Department also make regular visits to the unlicensed stores.

    “We don’t call them dispensaries,” says Sergeant Fincham, acknowledging that the term is, for many outlets, a semantic manoeuvre.

    Mr. Briere acknowledges that some customers have no medical use for his marijuana, and he agrees that his stores aren’t all about health care. “Of course not,” he says. “We’re setting this up to be recreational, full on recreational.”

    Besides, he says, marijuana “is far safer as a recreational drug than anything that’s out there. I don’t know anybody who smokes a joint and commits suicide.”

    It’s not the most alluring sales pitch, but Mr. Briere has a dozen more pro-pot arguments, and they boil down to these three: Times have changed; marijuana is no longer considered the devil’s weed; enforcing cannabis laws is a huge waste of money.

    Making a profit is not his main objective, he insists. But he’s in serious expansion mode, and he’s looking for equity partners. Mr. Briere owns three of the Weeds stores outright and he maintains a minimum 50% stake in the other “franchises.”

    Don Briere, owner of Weeds Glass and Gifts is pictured inside of his store in Vancouver. Ben Nelms for National Post

    All that’s required to partner up in a Weeds outlet is a capital investment of at least $40,000, a good location and a willing landlord. Mr. Briere says he’ll look after the access to product. He supplies his stores with marijuana from local growers, folks with Health Canada-issued personal production licences and other licensed producers, of whom there are thousands in B.C. alone.

    The federal government introduced new rules last year in an effort to restrict all marijuana production to a small number of highly regulated, closely inspected grow facilities. But a constitutional challenge launched by personal production licence holders has led to a temporary court injunction, and pending court decisions, which means that for now, small-time growers will continue to supply Mr. Briere and others with their marijuana.

    It’s not how the old system was meant to work, and it could end some day. The supply might dry up. Mr. Briere says he’ll be ready. “I plan to start growing this summer,” says the undisputed King of Cannabis.

    National Post

    Article source: The National Post

    Comments are closed.