Canada: How a laid off oilpatch worker became owner of Calgary's largest pot shop

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Amid pipeline problems and market mayhem, one Calgary welder is using skills learned in the oilpatch to kick-start a career in cannabis.

Jason Marshall had worked in the oil and gas sector as a journeyman welder for more than 17 years when the economic downturn hit Alberta in 2014.

Even with more than a decade of experience, Marshall was let go from his job at Precision Drilling along with thousands of other tradespeople as the industry ground to a crawl.

Marshall spent the next few years working as a contractor until a visit to the Calgary Franchise Show with his wife, Irene Struc, led him to trade in his welding torch for good.

“It was, I suppose, a complete surprise to both of us that this was even an industry we would end up in and . . . be big proponents of,” said Struc.

After weighing their options, the couple decided to break out on their own by starting Green Earth Cannabis near Marlborough Mall instead of buying into one of the larger cannabis chains.

Currently Calgary’s newest and largest cannabis retail store, Marshall said Green Earth offers something for every experience level of cannabis connoisseur.

“I know they say you should never try and be a jack of all trades . . . but because we have the space we’re able to do that,” Marshall said.

A sample of “Fireside Black” Indica is on display at the newly opened Green Earth Cannabis store on 33 St NE in Calgary on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Having a trades background allowed Marshall to start design and renovation work on his rented retail space before cannabis store permits from the province and city were rubber-stamped.

He also mined his contacts in the trades to enlist help from other former oil and gas workers to finish the teardown and rebuild.

“We went from basically nothing — just an idea — to getting to this point where we built everything ourselves and had a bunch of great people helping us bring all the little details together,” Struc said.

But Marshall said other areas of business ownership, such as endless paperwork and navigating the “minefield” of provincial regulations, have been more challenging for the couple.

And while starting construction before being officially approved might have seemed like a risk, Marshall said his gung-ho, do-it-yourself attitude helped get a speedy approval from Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, which was “prioritizing” applicants who had already made progress on their retail space.

A sample of “Lemon Skunk” Hybrid is on display at the newly opened Green Earth Cannabis store on 33 St NE in Calgary on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Last week, the AGLC said uncertainties around the supply of legal cannabis could mean no more Alberta pot shops will be approved for 18 months, but committed to equally distribute cannabis to the province’s 65 already approved stores.

But being the most recent cannabis store to open in Calgary hasn’t caused any problems for Marshall, who said Green Earth recently received its second of three purchased shipments totalling more than $100,000.

“Each order keeps increasing in size,” Marshall said.

“It seems like the AGLC is slowly getting more product in. From a supply point of view we’re fairly satisfied,” he said, adding Green Earth won’t be able to carry all the products on Marshall’s wish list due to investment capital, not AGLC supply.

With the province’s moratorium on new cannabis licences in place, Marshall said he’s happy to get Green Earth open while the market is still relatively small.

But the welder-turned-small business owner said his biggest business concern is that hundreds of cannabis store applications in Calgary could lead to oversaturation.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t go that high, but our business plan kind of accounted for still being profitable competing against those kind of numbers,” he said.

Green Earth Cannabis is located at 5-1305 33rd St. N.E.

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