On April 17 Jeremy Jones and Jordi Mikelie-Jones—owners of Triple J’s Music, Tattoos and Piercings in Whitehorse—received a special retail licence from the Yukon government. And they made history: Six months to the day after recreational cannabis became legal in Canada, the husband-and-wife entrepreneurial team got the go-ahead to open the first privately owned pot shop north of 60. Their outlet in the Yukon capital's downtown—Triple J’s Canna Space—opened the next day. It was planned as a soft launch ahead of “420,” an annual celebration among cannabis enthusiasts that takes place on April 20. Hundreds showed up.
Business may have been great, but getting to Day One was more than a challenge, even for something as eagerly anticipated as storefront cannabis sales. “A lot of people have seen dollar signs,” Jordi says. “They think of the ‘green rush,’ that if you’re involved with cannabis you’re going to be a millionaire overnight...What the last four years have shown us is that it’s really got to be a labour of love. To say that it's been an arduous journey would be an understatement. We've had sleepless nights.”
Jordi, in fact, compares the journey to getting a degree. She and Jeremy learned as they progressed, doing the legwork, conducting extensive research, figuring out how to train staff for a job that didn’t exist before and lobbying for the development of retailer-friendly legislation in the territory. Back in 2015, the Joneses envisioned opening a medical dispensary and, over the next year, researched the sector and drafted a 90-page plan for their own store. The vision morphed in 2017, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled legislation to legalize recreational cannabis use in Canada. Using their original plan as a foundation, the Joneses shifted gears and set course for the unknown. They partnered with cannabis researchers at the University of California in San Francisco and went through cannabis certification classes. Their staff was even used as guinea pigs for a cannabis course now required of cannabis sellers in Ontario.
Throughout this period, the Joneses felt it was necessary to crusade for the rights of private retailers. To that end, they lobbied the municipal and territorial governments as those bodies wrestled with issues such as zoning for cannabis shops, hours of operation, purchasing restrictions and more. And the challenges kept coming, right up until the final hour before the Joneses opened the doors at Triple J Canna Space. A Yukon Liquor Corp. objection hearing on April 15—the Joneses’ original planned opening date—pushed back their schedule by two days, even though the complainant didn’t show up. Then, on the first day of business, the store opening was delayed as they waited to receive their territorial cannabis licence—which they needed to get a city business licence, which they needed to get their inventory from Yukon Liquor Corp. and to get their debit machine from their service provider. The Joneses hope their efforts in hammering through what Jordi calls the “kinks and hiccups” will help to smooth out the process for future retailers. But for now, that’s all past; the focus is on running the business. “We’re in a spotlight right now,” Jordi says. “Every facet of what we do needs to be remarkable.” That means an aesthetically beautiful experience for all clients entering the store, a modern and user-friendly website, and professional, educated staff.
When you walk into Triple J’s Canna Space, you find a handcrafted wood table set up with small “canna pods” for displaying various cannabis strains. Upstairs, the Joneses sell equipment for home-growers and an eco-friendly clothing line for the Triple J’s brand. As the industry matures in Canada, the Joneses have plans to open a cannabis spa. “It’s the beginning, we’re in the first few steps,” says Jeremy, who focuses on cannabis research and education. “In the next few years it’s going to be more acceptable, more respected...People can learn more and be involved. The stigma has been around a long time, there’s 80 years of misinformation.” That’s where the value of a legal and regulated space for cannabis comes in. You know what you’re buying, where it’s coming from, who grew the plant, if pesticides were used, the cannabinoid content and if a strain is accurate.
But regulation comes with a shelf price that leaves many first-time Triple J's Canna Space customers with “sticker shock,” Jeremy says. Because of this, the Joneses committed to keeping their retail prices below those of Yukon government stores. It eats into profits, but it also helps the small business draw customers from sales channels run by the territorial government, which, for now, is both a supplier and a competitor.
In addition, the Joneses have taken on the role of advocates for a newly legal cannabis culture, not only to support their brand but also help to develop a healthy adoption of cannabis by the mainstream. They donate to local organizations, foster relationships with community members who are willing brand ambassadors, and reach out to Canada’s network of cannabis suppliers, large and small, in a push to bring industry attention to the North.
To staff and clients, the Joneses message is, fostering safe, legal cannabis use in the North can work as the foundation of a business that can be for everyone (anyone over the age of 19, that is). “As a collective we want them to know this is ground zero,” Jordi says.“We’re building this together.”