Legal weed is pretty much everywhere in the cities of Suisse romande, in Lausanne or in the rest of Canton de Vaud, also in Geneva for several months. Retail shops carrying CBD hemp, with almost no THC substance in it (the one that makes you high), have popped up here and there alongside regular « kiosques » or tobacco shops. Here’s a round-up of the phenomenon in video.
Economic context: The Swiss customs estimate that the market of legal weed could weigh aproximately 25 million francs within the first year in gross income.
Marco and Paul from DrGreen.ch were the first to launch their venture, selling weed to the Lausannois a few months ago. The two founders of the DrGreen’s shop have chosen that name in reference to a song from the pro-weed rap american band Cypress Hill. They are located on Rue de Genève and had to settle down in a bigger place because of their success. « We are the very first in Suisse romande to have penetrated the market. » And what market! The business is growing non-stop, curiosity helps, a lot of newcomers were just surprised by the strong smell of weed before even noticing that it was indeed a weed shop. « We had a few business deals proposals, franchise owners who wanted to spread their wings over here. But we are two entrepreneurs, two start-up creators in a very little space Rue de Genève. We took the minimum risks with people who helped us sign a rental contract on a short period of time. We started right off the bat by going to the police headquarters to explain to them what we were selling. » DrGreen was born in this post-industrial neighbourhood of Lausanne, the quartier Sévelin-Sébeillon. A real lively urban environment where the Théâtre de l’Arsenic and the rock club « Les Docks » are located. It is an aera where construction workers are very busy shaping a whole « new family oriented district », where so far prostitution was the main economic activity around.
Meanwhile, our two businessmen are working hard to offer a welcoming space to their customers, by sharing the same large warehouse that a crossfit center uses partly. « There were no major investments so far. The Swiss confederation would like to regulate the market as soon as possible » says Paul. But for the moment, the new businessmen who squeezed in this market had to go the same way as Paul and Marco, which means going step by step tiptoeing without spending too much cash, not knowing what is going to happen legally in the near future. The two « DrGreens » have to deal with a lot of paperwork. There is quite a lot of financial and admistrative guarantees to show to the authorities, particularly with the « Food and drugs » local administration, « we had to introduce ourselves to the administration and then we did our homework to know the current rules with precision. Within five months, we multiplied by five our gross income, so it is a lot of work in the shop and with the providers too. »
A long struggle
In Switzerland, there is a tradition of hemp culture but it is a long struggle to make it accepted to a broad public, to make it respectable socially. « A lot of people are interested by it » says Paul. « There is definitely the pleasure of smokers, its relaxing « power ». The fact that it makes people high and that is why people go for it is only attractive to a younger bunch of consummers When you are 30 years old, there is another appeal to it. The ritual of rolling a joint, the good smell… » We confirm, it seems that the art of rolling joints has never been that cool in the Olympic capital these days with all those nice and trendy open places where people can grab a beer or an organic local specialty and wander around (let’s say at the « Jetée de la compagnie » for instance), the customers of DrGreens could basically smoke freely, no policemen would be able to distinguish the legal stuff from the illegal material. But it seems that smokers still avoid to smoke in public for now. But how long will it last before the legal weed users let their joints pop out in the public eye?
Sales explose every day in Lausanne, if we believe the testimonies of newly self-employed professional retailers like Paul and Marco. « We doubled our monthly income every month for four months » discloses Paul. DrGreen is not the only one, Hemp at Home in Nyon reveals that they do not sell less than 500 francs of weed a day after only four weeks of active work in their store rue du Collège in Nyon. What counts is the level of professionalism. « It is a quality product » says Paul. The different types of weed are produced locally in Switzerland under heavy scrutiny. The sharp work pays, people love the swiss made weed being sold all over Romandie, and guess what, it is most of time organic. « For four months, we have around a hundred regular clients who come to the shop. Every time one of these customers steps in, he buys weed » says Paul. At DrGreen, Paul and Marco sell the product in a small plastic pot, sealed. Everything is strictly transparent. « We pay the tobacco tax exactly like any tobacco retailer. We are putting ourselves on a long-term strategy, we know who we deal with. We met all the producers and providers one by one. We work with very serious people. The volume of weed that we order is growing, therefore we need to be super honest with everybody, from our providers to our customers and the autorithies. » Paul and Marco are experiencing this adventure with passion and devotion, not counting their hours when it comes to go to work, Marco is driving several times a day his SUV to carry the decorative elements of the new shop, a sign that business is good and ongoing.
The authorities are not worried
In Nyon, Capitaine Christophe Schmidt, member of Police Nyon Région is completely fine with that new market as long as it is CBD, with a THC percentage under 1 %, that is sold. The three different registered retailers in Nyon had a legal licence to sell the product, as a tobacco substitute. « If the bag is sealed, that it comes from a shop with an official authorization, and that the customer has a proper receit, it is all fine for us » say Capitaine Schmidt. The police went around town when they knew that smart individuals felt it was the right time to try their luck on that niche, Capitaine Schmidt and his team are just very careful with the youngsters of the region. « Though it is highly unlikely that the youth will go for that type of product. The price is higher that the illegal weed, and there’s almost no THC which makes it less attractive… We remain very careful about this new market in case we are contacted by people who need to learn what is legal or not. We are also very prudent when it comes to marketing of the products. The bags can not be sold with the argument that it is relaxing or therapeutic » adds the policeman.
About this market, what is the amount of money involved, Frank Zobel, deputy director of Addiction Suisse in Lausanne says that the only data comes from the salesmen and the customs administration. « The customs think that the income from the sales of smoking products will be around 25 million francs, only in taxes. The amount is big but it is not that heavy in the budget of the Swiss confederation (around 60 billion francs). It means, if the figures of 25 million is confirmed, that the market will weigh around ten tons of smokable cannabis with a low THC rate and a high CBD rate each year. In comparison, the market of illegal cannabis weighs 50 tons per year in Switzerland.
To be continued.