Meet the Keralites who run cannabis 'Hempire' in Canada
There is no country where a Keralite does not reach, there is no job that a Keralites do not do ... These words represent the working consciousness of a Malayali. Here is one such story about the cannabis business being run by two young Malayalis in Canada.
There is an old joke that when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon, he was given a cup of tea by a Malayalee tea shop owner. Although the joke about Malayalees and its variations spread across the world, there are often times when one may just believe a story or two. Take the case of Kiran and Ananthu. They are the heroes of a similar story. These two young Malayalee men have started a successful business venture in Canada -- selling cannabis.
Many Keralites may frown on the business that Kiran Xavier from Nedumangad, Thiruvananthapuram and Ananthu Mohan from Pathanamthitta have in Kerala. Part of that resentment stems from the fact that Cannabis has not yet been legalized in India. Kiran spoke to Asianet News:
How did you get to Canada?
I come from a village near Nedumangad in Thiruvananthapuram. Ananthu hails from a village in the eastern part of the Pathanamthitta district. The two of us, who completed our schooling in 2015, arrived in Canada in September 2016 after being at home for a year. Although we come from the same state, we met in Canada. That too four months after I arrived here. Then we became roommates. We both come from very ordinary middle-class families. At Niagara College in Ontario, Canada, I studied computer engineering and he did business sales and marketing. We both recently changed our work permits and became permanent Canadian residents.
How do you get into the Cannabis business?
Most of the students coming from India to study abroad find it very difficult to afford the cost of living; especially those who come from middle-class families like us. So the general method is to work alongside studying. We did the same. The first job I got was that of a dishwasher in a restaurant. From there, we moved on to higher-paying jobs. Meanwhile, our studies progressed. It was during this time that campaigns intensified in Canada to allow the use of cannabis for recreational purposes as well as medical purposes. Cannabis was legalized in Canada by the time we graduated. Then we entered the sector as the newest business venture.
What precautions need to be taken when starting a new business, especially in a foreign country?
By the time we got here in 2016, there were campaigns going on to get cannabis for recreational purposes legalised. Generally, people with a criminal background are considered to be involved in such businesses. But things are quite different here. It was at that point that we decided to learn more about cannabis.
As part of that, I did an online course. I also attended seminars and paper presentations on cannabis. We had the potential to open up a whole new market. Also, at the time, I was working on a government-certified cannabis farm and dispensary. By the time I entered the business I had essentially a good understanding of everything from production to processing.
On October 17, 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced a law that allowed cannabis to be used for recreational purposes as well. We applied for the license in January 2020. The license is issued after one-and-a-half years. There are stages in getting the license. On August 13, 2021, we opened a retail shop called 'The Hempire' in Ontario. There are three categories of licenses. It is issued six months after the first license is applied for. After that, you have to apply for the second one. The third license can only be applied for once that has been obtained. Government officials have been in constant touch with us as we go through many of these stages of licensing. Also, a license can only be obtained if the security system is in place. Then again, this is an area where cash is essential. We opened the first cannabis shop in St Catherines Downtown.
How did your family react when they learnt that you were entering the cannabis business?
Of course. There are misconceptions that persist in society. But officers, doctors, lawyers and professors come to use cannabis for recreation outside India, especially in Canada. It is part of the lifestyle. In fact, our problem is that we do not know how to use it. The same thing applies to alcohol. It is the habit of a Malayalee to sneeze while drinking. Then we will say, "Excess nectar is poison." That is where the efficiency of the Canadian government comes into play.
How to use it? How much can be used? Everything related to cannabis, including problems with overdose, has accurate monitoring and systems are in place for that. When the government convinced them (family members) how to promote this business, they too agreed. Now, there is good support from the family. I felt that our ignorance was the problem.
How is the government overseeing the business?
First of all, the government system here is much better. Everything is under the control of the government. Cannabis is produced only on government-certified farms. After checking the THC content of the cannabis collected from the farms, the government delivers them directly to the retail shops. The distribution will be under the control of the government itself. Shopkeepers must obtain a license from the province from which they intend to purchase the product. Each province has its own license. This is because the production in each province will be of different quality. Only people over the age of 19 are allowed to sell cannabis. Therefore, advertisements in public places are also restricted. There are even restrictions on the amount (30g) that a person can buy at one time. A driving license can be revoked if caught driving with cannabis. Moreover, you will lose a huge amount of money from insurance.
It was with such strict regulations that the country legalized the cannabis business. At the same time, the country is committed to giving people an accurate awareness of cannabis. Accurate monitoring of the state is ubiquitous. As we do research in this area, we also do many projects online and offline for our customers.
What kind of products do you sell?
Dried Cannabis flower is mainly sold here. It is used to smoke. However, after the legalization of cannabis, a number of new products based on cannabis are now being marketed. One of them is Cannabis Edibles or cannabis-infused food products and drinks. It can be chocolate, gummies, cookies or drinks in many flavours. Now, a cannabis vaporizer is coming out as well. This is a battery-powered cannabis oil vaporizer that can be used by those who are not interested in smoking. There are also cannabis concentrates. We also sell the most concentrated products of cannabis, such as hash. We have cannabis products like body lotion and body cream. Such products are made using CBD-infused cannabis. Every day new products are launched in the market using CBD-infused cannabis. More than 5,000 such cannabis products are now available in the market. This is where every retail shop becomes different. The design of the shop, the customer service and the shop ambience can all be different. One needs to create their own menu by asking people for feedback. Thus, making your own products and gaining a market for them is one of the most competitive aspects in this field. All the things in the shop were just done by me and Ananthu. Everything from the way the products are placed in the shop to the paint and other designs; everything had been done by both of us. That is the biggest difference between our shop and other establishments.
What about the competition in this arena?
Cannabis business growth, after legalization, is steep. Prior to legalization, only government-certified products could be obtained from dispensaries if there was a prescription. However, after legalization, government-certified products could be purchased directly from retail shops. That is, people receive the product of the government itself reliably without intermediaries. The market for this 'credibility' is huge. In addition, it allows the consumer to determine the THC content of the object he is using.
Government figures show that by 2021, more than 50 per cent of the market will be for legalized cannabis. The rest is still an illegal business. It's a habit. Overcoming this, the government is trying to capture the market completely by gaining the trust of consumers. This is not just in Canada now. Cannabis is legalized in 11 states in the United States. Most recently, the state of New York also legalized cannabis. Cannabis is now legal in many countries. Consultations are underway to legalize cannabis in more countries. The competition in the cannabis business can be gauged from the fact that there are now more than 1,300 retail shops in the province of Ontario alone. The biggest challenge facing retailers like us is that big companies are competing. Canna Cabana, Tokyo Smoke, Toronto Cannabis and others have been in the industry for over ten years. Many of these firms have more than 150 shops. When they arrive in a city, it is a big setback for small businesses. They can sell the product with great offers at low prices. This attracts more customers. People like Cana Cabana also take over small shops. This way, the cannabis business is shifting to a corporate nature. In other words, the cannabis business is one of the biggest business opportunities in the world market in the future. This attracts more customers.
How does the Canadian community approach this business?
First of all, it's legal to use it under the age of 19. Therefore, even advertising in public places is not allowed. However, the cannabis community has long been popular in Canada because of its popularity. The cannabis community in Canada is a place where you can relax and unwind after a long day's work. Moreover, it is not like our country. It is also accepted by the general public as it has very scientific methods of consumption. There is also great credibility among the people as the law is strictly followed.