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The Village Bloomery Brings the Old-School Dispensary Vibe Into the Future

As Canada speeds toward nationwide cannabis legalization, there’s plenty to celebrate, from the creation of a vast new industry to the rejection of a century of scare tactics in favor of a fact-based approach to this most beneficial plant.

The Village Bloomery perfectly encapsulates what so many people love about their (technically illegal) neighborhood dispensaries.

But with the gains come losses—the foremost of which for many are the decades of colloquial wisdom, holistic understanding, and human commiseration known as “the dispensary scene,” which has flourished in cities like Vancouver and Toronto since the pre-MMAR “compassion club” days and is now at risk of being overwhelmed if not outlawed in the new era of government-controlled corporate cannabis.

Located just south of Downtown Vancouver, tucked alongside a glass-art gallery in a corner of Arthur Erickson’s iconic Waterfall Building, the Village Bloomery perfectly encapsulates what so many people love about their (technically illegal) neighborhood dispensaries.

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On the shop’s shelves is high-quality cannabis, produced in small batches by BC cannabis farmers. Behind the counter are knowledgeable budtenders, ready to offer concise tours of products’ cannabinoid and terpene profiles and point patrons toward those most likely to bestow the desired effects. And enveloping the whole endeavor is a legitimate sense of community, with visitors mingling and sharing stories, and weekends bringing holistic, healthy-living workshops like “Kicking Your Sugar Habit!”

The Bloomery’s utopian endeavors haven’t gone unnoticed. Since its inception in 2015, the Bloomery has been named Lift’s Top Dispensary of 2016 and the Georgia Straight’s “Dispensary Most Knowledgeable for Medical Commitment” in 2017.

The communal information sharing of the lobby a key part of the Bloomery experience.

The communal information sharing of the lobby a key part of the Bloomery experience. And the community—ranging, as Bloomery co-founder Andrea Dobbs puts it, from “people who have a relationship with cannabis but would like to reconsider it” to “young people who are curious about cannabis and want to integrate it in a way that fits their lifestyle” to those “using cannabis therapeutically”—is thriving.

This cannabis utopia is a family affair. The co-founder of the Bloomery is Andrea Dobbs’ husband, Jeremy Jacob (who also serves as president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries), and the couple’s three grown kids help out around the shop.

Pressed for their personal histories with cannabis, Jeremy offers a familiar tale of the late-teen recreational user who grew into a more nuanced relationship to cannabis in adulthood. “I started to use it with more conscious intent when I had serious back issues,” says Jeremy. “I was also dealing with a lot of stress, and I found some productive ways to integrate cannabis to get therapeutic benefits.”

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Andrea’s path to cannabis was more winding. After teenage experimentation inspired complete indifference, Andrea settled into a cannabis-free life in a city steeped in the substance. “I grew up in east Vancouver, where the BC Compassion Club was,” says Andrea. “So it had always been around my community. At the time, it didn’t add anything to my life, so I wasn’t interested, but I didn’t have any negative stereotypical reactions to it.”

But eventually the earth spun enough times to inspire Andrea to give cannabis another shot. “When I was 48, I started to get perimenopausal symptoms,” Andrea says. “I wasn’t sleeping, I didn’t have a libido, I was exhausted, I felt like I had evil-twin syndrome, and I was not very friendly. So I did some research and realized that THC fits into the same receptor as progesterone, and might help you sleep better.”

Andrea’s curiosity eventually drove her to one of Vancouver’s gray-market dispensaries. “I was less than excited by the experience,” she says. “There was a young man at the counter who was very nice but really had no idea what I was talking about. I think he felt really uncomfortable. He didn’t want to hear me say things like ‘sore boobs’ or ‘no libido.’ So he slid me a chocolate and I ate it.”

The woman-friendly Bloomery is staffed with budtenders as ready to banter about endometriosis as to quote Rick & Morty.

What followed was a classic “nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening, OHMYGODIAMSOHIGH” edibles experience. “I had to sit down for a number of hours and I was really uncomfortable,” Andrea says. “At the time, I knew that this experience was not what I wanted it to be, but at the end, I noticed I felt good, my body felt good, and I slept very well. And it was enough to make me think, ‘Maybe if I tried this differently, maybe if I had more information, this could’ve been a better experience.’ And I told Jeremy, this is something we should do. We’re both entrepreneurs. At the time I was working in in the recycling industry, Jeremy was working in renewable energy systems, and the rest is history.”

A key part of the Village Bloomery history is a commitment to creating a friendly, knowledgeable place for women, staffed with budtenders as ready to banter about endometriosis as to quote Rick & Morty. And it’s just this sort of focused care that dispensary lovers fear will get lost in the transition to a government-regulated recreational marketplace.

Beyond the communal knowledge are the individual acts of bravery that brought us to the point of legalization. “There are people who have put themselves out there, their freedom is on the line, their ability to travel is on the line,” says Jeremy. “Civil disobedience brought us to this point, and there’s a real fear that those people might be left behind as regulation comes through.”

Her Mission: Getting Craft Cannabis Into Ontario’s Government Cannabis Stores

Still, Jeremy remains hopeful, especially since British Columbia is the rare province going forward with a “hybrid model,” wherein legal recreational cannabis will be available for sale in both government-run and privately owned stores, with preexisting dispensaries eligible to apply for licenses allowing sales of legally sourced cannabis. (The Village Bloomery has applied for such a license and is hopeful. Stay tuned.)

For now, it’s Bloomery business as usual, with full community engagement.

“In the States, things are set up where you line up, come in, show your ID, do your transaction, and leave, and it feels really unnatural,” says Andrea. “So for as long as we can, we’re going to create a village environment.”

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Dave Schmader

Dave Schmader is the author of the book "Weed: The User's Guide." Follow him on Twitter @davidschmader

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