As the holiday shopping season begins and the end of 2021 is near, Zachary Lacelle, owner and operator of Northern Zen Cannabis in North Bay reflects on his experiences and urges people to support First Nations businesses.
What was it like when you first wanted to open your cannabis store?
“In the first round of cannabis retail store authorizations, the First Nations didn’t even have a chance to participate until it was yelled out by the members. This led to First Nations being in the plans for the second allocation of cannabis retail store authorizations.
In October of 2019, the government amended the regulations to allow for authorization of up to 26 stores on First Nations reserves. None of these store applicants or the First Nation itself could get any type of government funding because of the industry. Many private institutions wouldn’t help either unless the applicant had somewhere to house a facility. This made it very unlikely that a First Nation or one of its members would even be able to participate.
By March of 2020, the AGCO started to accept Retail Operator Licence applications for open market private cannabis retail operations. I think the government should have allowed at least one of the First Nations stores to open prior to the announcement of an open market. Here on Nipissing, we are very fortunate to be located only five minutes from the city, but not all First Nations are as lucky. There are now several First Nation stores open across Ontario with three here in Nipissing.”
What should people remember about shopping local?
“When people ask, ‘How’s business being the third store on the First Nations roadway?’ I wonder, ‘What about all the new stores opening in the North Bay area?’
The fact is, when you buy from a First Nations cannabis retailer, you aren’t just helping that business. You are helping to put food on our communities’ tables instead of a corporation’s year end statement. When I joined the lottery to participate in Ontario’s system it was because Iwanted to bring this opportunity to the First Nation and its members.”
How has business been going?
“It has been great. I couldn’t ask for more. We appreciate all of the support from everyone. Even though it was a little bumpy getting started, the government has been very supportive with all of the First Nations stores over the past year during these strange times.
We don’t have as many employees as many of the other stores do here in the North Bay area, but I had always planned on being hands on and serving clients. I’ve spent hours of my time writing a business plan and heading to school for quality assurance certifications. To stand here today and look back, I’m just grateful that my hard work has made my vision into reality.
Our team at Northern Zen hopes everyone has a safe and wonderful holiday season!”
Northern Zen is located at 76 Osprey Miikan in North Bay and is open daily from 10am until 8pm. You can also shop online or keep up-to-date on Facebook or Instagram. Until Dec. 13, customers can bring canned food donations for the local community into their store.