Adam Miron handles the package as though it were a newborn. “Look how thick this silk ribbon is,” he says. He points out the embossed gold seal and the acre of tissue paper it holds. He notes the quality of the glass bottles inside, the colourful logos he himself designed, the childproof tops. He is delightfully frank about his desired customer. “Give me a soccer mom who takes a couple of Ambiens,” he says, sunburned, sweaty and grinning in his linen blazer.
Soon, packages like these will be sent across the country from Hydropothecary, Miron’s medical-marijuana farm and boutique brand, which aims to sell grass to the moneyed classes. The pitch: Assuming you have a prescription and the means to spend $15 a gram, nearly double the Canadian average, you can have the same experience shopping for medical marijuana as for, say, an iPhone—that is to say, swanky presentation, smart design and free shipping. Plus brown-paper-bag discretion.
Medical marijuana has a branding problem. The federal government is not exactly enthusiastic about acknowledging the therapeutic qualities of a drug prescribed by an estimated 5,400 Canadian doctors. That institutional squeamishness belies the product’s growing popularity. There are roughly 40,000 licensed users, according to Health Canada data—an 8,000 per cent increase in under 15 years. They tend to be spenders, according to a recent study from the University of British Columbia, which noted that medical marijuana users were “younger, had a higher income, and were more likely to have completed high school” than the national average. Hydropothecary sells them marijuana, but also lends a patina of legitimacy to a process that’s often in the realm of mail-order Viagra and pornography.
Today, there are 50 kg of bud harvested from the 35,000 sq.-foot greenhouse sitting in the company’s underground vault. Miron has done the math. “A crop of tomatoes would go for $10,000. A crop of marijuana is $1.5 million,” he says. The company sells four strains, tailored to the time of day, which Miron describes in terms reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. “ ‘Good Morning’ is a stimulating, less psychoactive strain. ‘Midday’ keeps you functional at work. ‘After Dinner’ gets you over depression and anxiety. ‘Bedtime’ puts you to sleep.”
Miron, 31, came to what he describes as the “luxury medical marijuana” market by way of Ottawa. A former national director of the Liberal party, he helped to launch the inside-Ottawa Internet newspaper iPolitics in 2010. The idea of selling pricey weed to well-heeled clients came to him via a childhood friend, Max Cyr, who was working at Health Canada. Sitting around a campfire on Canada Day weekend in 2013 with Sebastien St-Louis, Miron’s brother-in-law, Cyr mentioned Health Canada’s new regulations parcelling out Canada’s medical-marijuana supply to licensed growers. The business potential was enticing; Health Canada has received about 2,000 applications to grow medical marijuana. Hydropothecary is one of only 25 in the country to be approved. Today, Cyr is its customer experience manager, while St-Louis is its CEO. The company hopes to go public this year.
Miron, the COO, is also the company’s light touch. He is the reason Hydropothecary will send flowers grown in a greenhouse 60 m from the cash crop to anyone who asks for them via Hydropothecary’s website—a “goodwill outreach campaign,” he says. He is also the main reason there are hardly any visual references to marijuana’s traditional selling point: the jungle-green pointed leaf. Focus groups indicated patients are wary of such clichés, he said. As such, packages arrive with a masked return address, and the company recommends its clients vaporize, not smoke, its product.
He’s also designed a membership card, coloured carbon-fibre black, that would contain the client’s prescription information, should a doctor or a member of law enforcement ever inquire. “We see ourselves as a lifestyle company, and our product should be part of your routine, as long as your doctor agrees, for a healthy lifestyle.”
Miron doesn’t count himself a client. Marijuana doesn’t suit his palate. “I like whisky and red wine,” he says.