When Rob Waddell opened Planetary Pride on Bruce Street 25 years ago – the Sault’s first-ever cannabis accessory shop – the general public didn’t exactly offer the warmest of welcomes.
“Everybody said the store wouldn’t last – that we would never get marijuana legal,” he told SooToday. “There was a lot of uncertainty at that time.”
But at the turn of the century, medical marijuana was legalized in Canada. Less than two decades later, the legalization of cannabis for citizens aged 19 and older followed.
Now, the Sault is currently home to around a dozen Ontario Cannabis stores.
Just when it feels like the industry is riding a massive high, Waddell recently had to make the difficult decision to close Planetary Pride amid some personal health challenges.
One of the city’s most popular Queen Street storefronts, Planetary Pride provided residents with all their cannabis paraphernalia needs for the last quarter century – from bongs and pipes to grinders and papers.
Although he’s never actually sold cannabis itself, Waddell has faced no shortage of controversies and backlash – particularly in the store’s early years.
“It was really taboo at one point,” he says. “The stereotypical pot-smoker was lazy and non-productive. We had some ups and downs for sure, but we always found a way. It’s been quite a journey.”
Waddell’s idea to open Planetary Pride was sparked in 1998 after he read an article in a Cannabis Canada magazine about how to start a hemp store.
“It got my wheels thinking,” he says. “I was tired of the stigma. The cannabis activism movement was just starting, so I figured ‘what did I have to lose?’ I tried several other businesses that never really got going.”
A year after opening the store, Waddell took his passion for marijuana to a whole new level when he started Hempfest – an annual event hosted about 45 minutes east of the Sault that celebrated and raised awareness for the cannabis plant.
“People would come from all over,” Waddell recalls. “We would have three days of camping, music, vending, and big bud competitions. Medical marijuana patients would come and speak as well.”
“I felt in my heart it had to be done and it was the right thing to do, because I believed in the legalization of the plant. ‘Free the plant, save the planet’ as we said.”
Hempfest ran every year until 2009 before the father of six decided to call it quits amid growing concerns of heavy drugs making their way into the festivities.
Since then, Waddell finds his customer base has diversified as the public perception and federal laws surrounding cannabis have been altered greatly.
“As I became more vocal about it, people would open up to me more,” he says. “They’d be like ‘hey I can’t go in your shop, but way to go’ type deal.”
“The people who use cannabis ranges the whole spectrum now. There’s doctors, lawyers, judges, architects, teachers – you name it.”
With 25 years in the business now behind him, Waddell envisions a new era of marijuana practices over the next 25.
“I think we’re going to see more open cannabis markets,” he explains. “The current regulations are cumbersome and expensive for anybody that’s getting into the game.”
“I see it eventually where someone could have a shop, and they could have a legally licensed grow going at the shop like craft breweries where they’re making their beer and sell it. Same thing with cannabis: grow your own cannabis, sell it in your own shop sort of thing.”
Planetary Pride, along with Anipeg Tattoo and an empty space to the left, will be put on the market next week according to Waddell.
He says the trio of spaces will be listed at $500,000. Anipeg Tattoo will remain in operation
Waddell told SooToday he’s hopeful his cannabis accessory shop will be purchased by a likeminded business owner who can keep his vision alive.
“Planetary will probably live on,” he says. “I’ve been approached by a company that is looking at taking over the brand and partnering up. I’m hoping they’ll continue it on or re-open as a cannabis store.”
When asked what he would miss most about running the store, the outspoken cannabis activist didn’t hesitate: “The customers.”
“Lots of regulars over the years,” he says. “For a lot of people, it was the first place they bought a bong. This was the only shop in town where you could go in and talk about pot.”
“I didn’t imagine the success and the notoriety it would gain over the 25 years. It’s the end of an era. I’m really going to miss it.”