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A rollercoaster ride in opening a cannabis store

Cannabis was made legal in Canada in October of 2018, but despite planning getting underway that year, Kamloops cannabis store Fiore Fresco wasn't able to open until March of 2020, the very month the pandemic was declared.
Fiore Fresco March 17 22
Fiore Fresco aimed to open as early as possible after legalization, but couldn't until March 2020, and has only been open during the pandemic

Cannabis was made legal in Canada in October of 2018, but despite planning getting underway that year, Kamloops cannabis store Fiore Fresco wasn't able to open until March of 2020, the very month the pandemic was declared.

Co-owners Chris Monteleone, Dino Bernardo and Justin Cuzzetto leased their Fortune Shopping Centre location for 18 months before they were able to open.

While municipal approval was fairly quick, it took the province longer to approve the store, with even some others, who applied after the trio, first receiving approval.

During that time, Monteleone said he questioned whether the business would ever get off the ground.

"You question that every day. You're putting money into something that you are blind on the approval process for. Multiple emails, phone calls, weekly, often daily, for a two-year period. It's quite a drain on you," he said.

Cuzzetto said the store's opening wasn't what he had imagined. The province was essentially shut down at the time due to COVID-19 and, with no way to advertise cannabis products and social media platforms that restrict discussion about the drug, there were limited options to get people excited.

"We couldn't even be those guys, out there publicizing our own store," he recalled.

The three co-owners said the opening process was a big hit to their pocketbooks, but that things have run smoothly since, despite only being open during a pandemic.

Certain types of products, such as edibles and extracts, weren't approved for sale until a year after legalization, leaving room for black market sellers to keep some of their customers.

Since then, however, with more types of products available and prices falling, legal cannabis has made some headway.

"We were getting smoked by the black market in the beginning,” Cuzzetto said. “We were doing well, but we didn't have extracts, we didn't have concentrates, we didn't have all those things. And the things we did have in those kinds of groups of products, they were 50 per cent more expensive than they were in the black market.”

Cuzzetto pointed to products like good quality, affordable one-ounce (28 gram) packages of flower being important in pulling people away from the illegal market.

CBD products have also seen a lot of growth and interest, according to Bernardo.

"We really promote that, too. We're non-medicinal, so we can't say 'Well, this going to help you do this,' but we can talk about things people are trying for themselves," he said, noting the rewarding feeling of helping someone find something they believe is helpful.

Despite the headway and success of most products, more changes are needed, according to Monteleone, who would like to see alterations made to edibles.

"Yes, there's a lot of people that five to 10 milligrams, it works for them, but there's a lot more people that require more than 10 milligrams to get where they want to be," he said.

As business owners who have supported the community in the past through sponsorships and the like, Monteleone said he would  love to do the same with Fiore Fresco, maybe adorning some local soccer or football jerseys with the store's brand.

But under the current regulations, that's not possible.

"Hopefully, the cannabis rules and regulations end up following the same as the alcohol regulations," he said, noting increased opportunities to sponsor teams and community events.