Cierra Sieben-Chuback had just finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Saskatchewan when she got the kind of job opportunity most 23-year-olds could only dream of: owning a perfectly legal cannabis store.
Right after Saskatchewan announced the winners of the province's 51 cannabis retail store permits on June 1, Sieben-Chuback found herself in the media spotlight.
"I was a little bit bombarded at first, and I think it was because of who I am, because I'm so young, and maybe because I'm female too, that's a little bit stand-out for this industry," says Sieben-Chuback by phone from the construction site of her store-to-be in Saskatoon.
"But no, getting all that media attention was definitely overwhelming. I lived a pretty quiet life up until that point."
Sieben-Chuback says she hasn't heard of a legal cannabis store owner in Canada's who's younger than her. Since getting her store permit, "my life has basically turned upside-down, but in the best possible way," she says.
Sieben-Chuback quit her job as a line cook at a local restaurant and negotiated a business loan from family members. Now, she works "morning to night," seven days a week, getting ready for legalization on Oct. 17.
Her store will be called Living Skies Cannabis, a nod to the "Land of the Living Skies" motto on Saskatchewan licence plates. Sieben-Chuback has received approvals from local authorities to open on Third Avenue South.Advertisement
"It's right in the heart of downtown Saskatoon," she says. "It's on a street with a bunch of restaurants and bars and hotels. It's basically the only place I'd want to be."
Saskatoonians love to support local businesses, says Sieben-Chuback, and of the seven cannabis stores coming to Saskatoon, she's the only owner who was born and raised in the city.
"So that's where I position myself, is the local person."
With a location secured, Sieben-Chuback is focusing on building her store's interior and negotiating future supply agreements, plus reading and learning about the laws and rules governing legal cannabis stores.
Even though her store isn't open yet, Sieben-Chuback has already been offered a chance to cash out and walk away. Over the summer, she was approached by a group of businesspeople who wanted to buy her licence, but she didn't even wait for a formal offer before she turned them down.
"There's no way I'm going to sell my business: this is my baby and this is everything I've ever wanted, so no amount of amount of money is worth this to me... I don't know any other 23 year olds, at my age, that would turn something down like that. But I'm not in this for the money, this has never been about the money for me."
Sieben-Chuback doesn't see her age as a business disadvantage.
"That was something that I learned, getting involved in this industry, was that just because this person has twenty years of business experience doesn't necessarily mean that they're better than me, or smarter than me," she says. "I've found that I do have an advantage of being young, because I see things with no biases, and I have an open mind about a lot of stuff."
"Maybe upon meeting me, people are like, 'Wow this girl looks so young.' Because I am 23, but I really look, like, 15 or 16. But then after I talk to them, I think that they quickly realize that I'm not just a kid."
Being a young cannabis store owner does come with one challenge, Sieben-Chuback admits: lots of her friends and acquaintances are asking her for a job.
"People think that because they know you, they think that you're going to offer them a job or whatever, and I know that I really shouldn't be hiring my friends... I've been trying my best to strategically hand-pick certain people that I think would be good for the job, and that I'm not necessarily too close with them that it would affect our friendship or anything like that."