The Tokyo Smoke story has inspired a
conversation about the Cannabis movement.
Here is a sample vision into the future of Cannabis
One year ago, I was 30 years old, leading a $100-million-plus business as head of an Asia-Pacific-wide sales team for Google, and making more money than I ever imagined. I had lived in New York, San Francisco, Bangkok and Singapore, and travelled to over 50 countries. All this because six years before, I landed my dream job at Google in corporate strategy.
I found myself on a secondment in Ghana developing national Internet infrastructure. On my way to a voodoo ceremony with a Ghanian tour guide, I reflected on my career path, admitting to him that I’d lost focus and felt unfulfilled. What he told me changed the course of my life: “You either work on something you love, or work because it supports the people you love.”
That’s when I quit Google.
You won't find brightly coloured bongs or bubble gum-flavoured rolling papers displayed against the backdrop of exposed brick and modern, industrial-style furnishings at Tokyo Smoke.
Instead, the shop — located in a former shipping dock nestled between two warehouses in Toronto's west end — carries high-end pot paraphernalia befitting the pages of a design magazine while also serving up cups of artisanal coffee.
Pipes handcrafted by California-based ceramicist Ben Medansky sit alongside a pricey portable vaporizer, a reimagined version of the French press coffeemaker launched via a Kickstarter campaign and a selection of what shop owner Alan Gertner calls "museum quality collectibles" — items such as vintage Barbies and a vintage Hermes bag.
It's all part of Gertner's mission to create a cannabis-friendly lifestyle brand that caters to the urban intellectual — one that breaks the mould of dated weed associations involving video games and junk food.
“We currently have the most industrialized process for marijuana production in the world,” said Alan Gertner, the co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based high-end cannabis lifestyle brand, Tokyo Smoke. “That puts us in a position where, with the repeal of marijuana prohibition at a national level, we can build significant infrastructure and build brands and build intellectual property at a pace that’s unrivalled.”
Gertner adds that while some states are well ahead of Canada in terms of recreational distribution, federal prohibition has left the industry in a less mature state, making it ripe for disruption by better-funded Canadian competitors.
“It doesn’t at all feel like you’re experiencing modern retail in the design of the store, in the layout of the store, in the staff of the store, in any part of the experience, and it’s possible that almost overnight Canada could bring modern retail to the marijuana space [in the US],” he said. “The same is true with growing in the US. None of the growing facilities in the US feel like modern, industrial scale growing operations, whereas if you look at the medical marijuana program in Canada it’s a modern program built for industrial scale.”
Recreational legalization in Canada, however, could force policymakers in the US to modernize their federal policies in order to level the playing field.
The coffee shop Tokyo Smoke Found is sandwiched between two warehouses in Toronto's West End. Built in a former loading dock, the 330-square-foot space—outfitted with custom steel shelving, exposed brick, a rough-hewn common table, and Tolix stools—is the face of a new lifestyle brand that aims to elevate weed. Legalized marijuana is booming business—it amounted to $2.7 billion in 2014—and the numbers are projected to rise. One report estimates that legalized weed will become an $11 billion industry by 2019. Tokyo Smoke is emblematic of the larger "Whole Foods-ification" of weed and endeavors to recast the product as more of a lifestyle. As "prohibition" is steadily lifted on recreational use, there's an opportunity for startups to cash in on a potentially lucrative market.
Tokyo Smoke is the brainchild of Alan Gertner, a former Google employee who helped develop the company's first global business strategy team in 2009, and his father Lorne Gertner, a fashion-industry veteran and chairman of PharmaCan, a company that invests in medical marijuana businesses. Alan and Lorne are betting that the loosening laws governing cannabis—Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau wants to legalize weed—will open the doors for more sophisticated branding, marketing, and products.