Warren Bobrow=WB: Where did you grow up? Was cannabis vilified like where I grew up in 1960’s/70’s NJ? What brought you forward into the cannabis industry? Outdoor or indoor grown?
Dave Belisle=DB: I grew up on the Mohawk Territory of Kanehsatake in Quebec, Canada. About 45 minutes north of Montreal. Cannabis was definitely vilified growing up. But I remember there being police raids for fields around our small reservation of about 1500 people. I remember helicopters flying around in its height in 1994. We made the news with how much was being grown here. Even I had a couple plants around town (shhh don’t tell anyone though hehe). Ever since my teenage years I’ve been around cannabis. In my early 20’s I started using cannabis full time. It was many years later that I found out about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. The biggest miracle with cannabis was with my son who was diagnosed with epilepsy. He hasn’t had a seizure in over 4 years since he started using daily. He was a zombie on the prescribed meds. I got my business start by trading cigarette cartons for pounds of indoor. I’ve always been in the cannabis industry for as long as I can remember, either as a consumer or on the retail side. And that “retail” side wasn’t always considered legal. So, when I had the opportunity to fully participate in the industry, I dove in head first. The years of product knowledge has served me well in operating the business.
WB: Tell me about your company? What makes your firm different and therefore more agile? Did you attend B school? If so, did you anticipate where you are today? Do you have a mentor? Who?
DB: We are The Medicine Box, an Indigenous owned and operated cannabis dispensary. I think combining experience, the want to bring the medicinal properties of cannabis to everyone and an obsessive attention to the customer experience has made The Medicine Box different in our industry. Since day one we realized our customers were using cannabis medicinally, whether it was for anxiety or a serious ailment. Based on that insight, we set up a testing lab on site to give the customers more transparency. We wanted to give our customers as much information as we would want to know if we were the customer. I did not attend business school and pride myself on that fact, the whole team is pretty much self taught and passionate about building something cool. More importantly, we’ve attracted a great team that compliments each others strengths and weaknesses.
I couldn’t have anticipated where I am today in a million years, mainly due to the bumpy path of legalization and the stigma of cannabis.
It’s still a bit surreal if I’m being honest.
With our mission statement being “It’s not about cannabis, it’s about life” we’ve been able to have cannabis be the driving force in making positive change, not only with our team and clients, but in our community as a whole. We’ve been fortunate to create close to 20 steady jobs to a community with a massive unemployment rate. We’ve partnered with our cultural center who has a language revitalization program that is teaching the next generation to speak our native Mohawk language. They had their funds cut in 2019 and were facing the program being cut short. We were able to donate and supplement the funds allowing them to finish off the year with no interruptions. We have committed to giving them ongoing support. We have also started to incorporate their knowledge to offer language courses to our team and include Mohawk words into in our store signage. It’d be amazing to see our team using the language everyday and even our clients eventually. We like to model other great businesses, so Apple stores were a huge inspiration for our most recent expansion and rebranding. We’ve paid attention to other cool retail experiences in other industries and have incorporated unique ideas, technologies and best business practices. We take the best of the best and find a way to incorporate it into our business in an innovative way.
WB: What is your 6 and 12 month plans? How do you move forward in our highly regulated industry?
DB: The next 6-12 months will be a wild ride for us, we are currently planning to move to a seed-to-sale model so we can better control the quality and supply. We also see a huge opportunity in increasing the quality of processed and packaged products on the market, from concentrates, tinctures to edibles. So, I think the natural evolution will be to create products that are higher quality, medicinally focused, socially and environmentally conscious. We have been slowly getting involved on the political front as well, to help move the needle to common sense regulations that allows our industry to flourish and enable us to contribute to raising the standard of living in our community. Also keeping product quality and safety as a priority. There’s a huge opportunity to create more jobs and lift our people out of poverty and offer more employment and life options. We want to be a part of that.
WB: What is your favorite restaurant? Where? Why? What kind of food? Do you cook? Who taught you?
DB: Montreal is fortunately a foodie’s mecca. It’s only 45 minutes away from home and has some world class options. Fav restaurant just might be Pieds de Cochon and/or Joe Beef. These two places put Montreal on the map and were featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” show for obvious reasons. I’m no food critic but Joe Beef has a farm to table style and with an old bus stop type of feel. It’s a great representation of the local French Canadian culture. I do cook but I feel like a high school lady talking about cooking after mentioning Joe Beef; LOL. But seriously, being from a single parent home my mom raised me and taught me how to take care of myself which included cooking, cleaning and everyday tasks.
WB: What is your passion?
DB: Without being cliché I’d have to say that my passion would be Cannabis. But my whole world revolves around my family. I’m a proud father of 1 boy, 2 girls and a grandfather to a little boy and twin girls. I’m an only child born into a big family. That’s where I get my family values from. 7 Uncles and 2 aunts not including the ones from marriage. I’m the oldest of all the grandchildren where I’m more of the big brother than cousin. I’ve always been working around spiritual healing and medicines. I hold a bachelors in aboriginal Social work. I have a degree in Community Diabetes Work. I’ve been working in the community for 15 years as a community worker, Youth worker and worked in the National Natives Alcohol and Drugs Addiction program. I ran a fathers and men’s anger management group for years. I feel that my calling in life is to be a healer, either spiritually, emotionally, mentally and through the benefits of cannabis. I feel like working in cannabis is in alignment with that.