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In Toronto, there are few key players in the cannabis scene who are as well known as Abi Roach.

With the Hotbox Cafe, Roach-O-Rama and Spliff magazine – her business savvy in the Cannabis industry is well known.

We were fortunate enough to sit down with Abi Roach and find out what she thinks about legalization, cannabis tourism and women’s role in the industry. Here’s what she had to say.

Alpha Woman: Why did you choose to work in the cannabis industry, what drove you into the space?

Hotbox in Kensington Market - Toronto

Abi Roach’s Hotbox in Kensington Market (Image courtesy of Hotbox Cafe)

Abi Roach: Well, when I opened The Hotbox Cafe in 2000, a month before I turned 20, I had just finished a small business entrepreneurship course. It was like, “I want to do what I love, and I love smoking weed,” so I just got into it. At the time there was no competition—there were literally two head shops in all of Toronto and that was it, that was the industry.

AW: What excites you as we get closer to legalization?

Abi Roach: I’m excited for freedom.  In reality, I never even fought for legalization—I mean, that was obviously the end goal, but the purpose of my business, the principle that guided my business from day one, was normalization. Legalization could never have happened without it, right? We need to follow what the gay community has done for themselves; by coming out of the “grow closet,” as I like to call it, and being out there and not being ashamed of the fact that you’re a cannabis consumer, it changes the votes of everybody around you.

Take my mother and father, for example, who are fairly conservative—I’m their daughter and now they understand and now they support what I do.  They want legalization, not for themselves, for me and people like me.  I want to say that it’s not yourself that you have to change; it’s the people around you.  And once one cannabis consumer becomes 10 votes, that’s when it becomes an election issue. That’s how the Liberals won on legalization platform, and how we got to the point we are today.  I look forward to people not having to be afraid anymore. I feel like that goal was already achieved to a point, but taking away the criminalized element of it—that’s what I’m looking forward to.  I’m looking forward to not being a “criminal” anymore.

Everything I do revolves around weed tourism and cannabis lifestyle.

AW: Where do you think women fit in the industry?

Abi Roach: OK, here’s my thing about being a woman in this industry.  When I started out I was a 19-year-old girl, and being a woman was the least of my problems: I’m disabled, I’m a Rasta, I’m Jewish.  I think women need to stop focusing on the fact that their genitalia are different. If there are roadblocks in front of you, you figure out how to make those roadblocks go away.

That goes for men, that goes for minorities, that goes for people with disabilities. Women just need to focus on being good business people, on holding their heads high up and not taking shit from anyone.  That’s the bottom line for anyone that wants to be in any business, and I don’t think the cannabis industry is any different. It’s your marketing, it’s your business savvy, it’s how well you know your customers, it’s how can you serve your customer better. So, in the end, are they going to come to my store over someone else’s because I’m a woman or because I’ve created an environment that’s more conducive to their needs?

I’ve had to deal with a lot of sexism and I don’t let it faze me. I own a business down in Jamaica, which is a much more male-dominated society and I do business with boys the same way I would do it with anyone else.  Because right off the bat, I’m like, “do you want my money?  Or do you not want my money?” If you don’t want my money you can keep treating me like a fucking idiot, but if you want my money you can just treat me like a human being.  Bottom line. Owning a business at any time is a constant changing world. Your brain has to be on 15,000 different things at once, and you have to be on point.

AW: What’s your favourite strain?  How do you like to consume it?

Abi Roach: I’ve always loved blueberry. Anything with Blueberry in it is my favourite. It’s just not too Indica heavy, it’s a nice vibe, and it doesn’t make me too sleepy.  Anything with blueberry, I’m happy to smoke.

I’m usually a spliff smoker. Bongs are too much for me. I like dabbing once in a while—mostly on the weekends when I’m on the couch and I’m not going to move anywhere.  I’m not a very social smoker, I much prefer to be at a point where I’m done work and I want to unwind. I used to smoke at work all the time, but as I grew older and had more stuff to do, I just realized I need to be awake, and not tired or groggy, so I stopped consuming at work unless I’m about to go home.  And lately I’m really into the togo pens—the pre-filled distillate pens. They come in blueberry and they’re delicious. You just need one or two puffs, and they have no smell, no vapour. I can puff inside and no one really notices.  I love them.

AW: What’s your advice for anyone getting into the industry?

Abi Roach: Go to business school. Figure out how to run a business.  Figure out if you’re a person capable of running a business. Some people just aren’t built to sustain that amount of pressure and creativity and stress.  Owning a business at any time is a constant changing world. Your brain has to be on 15,000 different things at once, and you have to be on point. Once you realize that you’re the type of person who can be an entrepreneur, learn time management, learn proper marketing, figure out what it is you actually want to do.

Also, really look at the laws and where they are going. Look at the loopholes in the laws and figure out where you can fit your business model around the legalities.  If you can do it on your own without partners or investors, do it. I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and I’m still the sole owner of my company. Every time I’ve taken on partners for side ventures, it has blown up in my face.  Do it alone—in my experience, working with partners will always end up like a bad divorce.

You can literally light up a spliff anywhere in Jamaica and nobody will even look twice at you.

AW: Tell us more about your experience with weed tourism and your business in Jamaica.

Abi Roach Watah Day - Hotbox

Abi Roach Watah Day – Hotbox

Abi Roach: Everything I do revolves around weed tourism and cannabis lifestyle. I had the idea in 2012 to open a ganja resort in Jamaica. I hooked up with bad partners and they stole my idea and screwed me.  But that’s OK, it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. It’s not working out for them either.

Then I did it again. I’ve been doing it for the last three years on my own without any partners. It’s a bud-and-breakfast.  So, I have a beach house on the north coast of Jamaica.  It’s a four-bedroom villa. Guests rent rooms, and that includes breakfast and your bud. We have a little dispensary, and we have edibles and medicated meals available. Everything is ganja-themed, including the canvases and carvings on the walls.  We have a private beach and ganja growing around the yard.  We have ganja farm and real Jamaica tours. I take you to all of my favourite places, and your weed is included, so it’s a nice high experience.

My favourite tour is the fire water tour. We go to this really magical place: It’s a pool that has a hole in it from 3000 meters down in the ground, and they light it on fire. And then you sit in this crazy fire water and it heals everything.  It’s an amazing place—really local, and not many tourists go there.  From there we take you to the waterfalls to wash the minerals off in fresh water.  You can light your spliff off the fire on the water. It’s incredible.

I really want to show people why I love Jamaica.  You know, the little things about Jamaica that made me fall in love with the place.  Not just the ganja.  It’s the natural freedom of being.  You can literally light up a spliff anywhere in Jamaica and nobody will even look twice at you. You go to the beach and there’s Mom and Dad lighting up a spliff while the kids play, and nobody blinks. It’s not even an issue. And that’s where Canada needs to be. See Hotboxjamaica.com for more details.

AW: Do you think there’s a future for small, craft producers here in Canada?

Abi Roach: The federal government understands that in order for legalization to work, the current market has to transition into a legal framework. Micro licensing for production and processing have been created. Now people have to be given the opportunity to apply and receive licensing.

AW: How do you see the open and liberal weed culture and the conservative and decidedly paternal corporate culture as bedfellows? Is it possible? Will one influence – or kill – the other?

Abi Roach: October 17 is day 1 of forever. Prohibition is over, and I truly doubt someone will run and win on a future prohibitionist ideology. I foresee a ten year transition period, from Cannabis being the “fringe” to just another product on the shelf.

AW: What do you think the future of cannabis in Canada looks like?

Abi Roach: I foresee cannabis as being a SKU in our shopping habits. I think of cannabis like corn. The amount of actual raw corn we eat is very minimal, but corn syrup is in everything. I think in the next decade you will see cannabis derived products sold alongside groceries and makeup. The more relaxed society gets about cannabis, the better the industry will be. The restrictions imposed on cannabis currently are only there due to prohibitionist induced stigma and ideology.

AW: Are you working on any new business ventures you can divulge?

Abi Roach: Hotbox is always growing and evolving. We are working on a fantastic retail strategy for North America and the Caribbean, as well as products and marketing. We have always been ahead of the green curve, and we will continue to be innovators in the space.  



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