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Abi Roach is one of the most recognizable figures in Canadian cannabis. From the window of her storefront in Kensington Market, Roach has watched a culture she helped shape transform into an industry she now holds high stakes in. As the founding owner of one of the country’s oldest cannabis brands, she is the brains behind Hot Box, a unique lounge and head shop in Toronto, and a one-of-a-kind canna café in Jamaica. We caught up with Roach recently to discuss her place in the space, the prospects for private retail in Ontario, and the future of legal cannabis in Canada. 

How has the cannabis landscape changed in Canada? 

When the industry started, it was small. I have four fingers and, in Canada 18 years ago when I opened, the number of people in the industry was double that. What you’re seeing now is a lot more people in the legal market, there’s a lot more people working. And we’re still 51 days away from day one. 

What are your hopes for Hot Box as we welcome reform? 

The Hot Box is open and welcoming and it’s about cannabis. I think a company like ours, which has 18 years of experience and stringent staff training and policies, it makes sense for us to be able to retail cannabis. In the long run, I think our sales would be a lot higher than any of the other shops. That’s the goal! 

How does Hot Box plan to set itself apart from other retailers? 

For us, we’re not going to be a business that sells cannabis; cannabis will be a part of our business. Everyone else is going to be opening a concept, where we already exist. What we have now is a business that’s experienced – we went to kindergarten, we went to elementary school, junior high. And now we’re at the prom, we’re going to university, while everyone else is in junior kindergarten. 

Are you generally excited for legalization October 17?

I keep telling everyone to have a toke and chill out for a minute. On Twitter, people chirp about 26 companies getting into the OCS (Ontario Cannabis Store), but by next year five of those companies may not even exist, and 20 new ones will get added. When alcohol prohibition ended, it was a similar scene. 

Do you pride yourself on the work you do in the space? 

Absolutely. If it wasn’t for me and hundreds of others, if we didn’t do it [push reform], we wouldn’t be having this conversation. People had to cross boundaries in order to get here, and I take great pride in having worked hard over the last six years at Queen’s Park to push for private retail in this province.

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