What a trip: Westport B&B owner appeals to the ‘cannabis curious’

Nancy Sendell hopes a pot-positive attitude gives her business an edge

The Water Wood Bed and Breakfast in Westport offers unique opportunities for the cannabis-curious.

Nancy Sendell didn’t set out to become a “pot-positive” entrepreneur. 

“I moved to Westport from Toronto back in 2019 with the brilliant idea of buying a house here and opening up a bed and breakfast,” Sendell says. 

She bought an adorable farmhouse in the well-known tourist hub on Big Rideau Lake and put her interior design training to work crafting a cozy hideaway for guests and building a small business to help with the mortgage. 

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She opened her new bed and breakfast just in time for the first wave of COVID in Ontario. 

“So I stumbled on through a couple of seasons of really not great income coming in,” Sendell admits. 

To supplement her slim earnings, she took on part-time work with cannabis company Canopy Growth, headquartered in nearby Smiths Falls. While working there the 64-year-old says she realized that the legal cannabis business was much more sophisticated than the little illicit baggies of green stuff she remembered from her youth. 

She also came to believe that the drug could be a real benefit to people in their 60s living through knee surgeries, sleeplessness or chronic pain.

Nancy Sendell, owner of the Water Wood B&B, learned about the cannabis industry working part-time for Canopy Growth. Photo submitted

“Believe it or not, once you get in your 60s, all that stuff comes into play big time. So I thought there was an opportunity here to get information out,” she says. 

She also thought catering to the “cannabis-curious,” especially the older and less experienced crowd, would be a great way to differentiate her business from other B&Bs in the area. 

Sendell doesn’t sell cannabis or promote its use to younger people. She doesn’t even allow smoking indoors. What she does provide is a cozy venue for guests to enjoy cannabis without judgment or stigma.

“What I’m offering here is a safe and responsible way to consume cannabis in a cute little village that’s got a winery, a brewery, some great live music and we’re right on the Rideau Trail and next to a lot of other beautiful little trails,” she says. 

Sendell is also happy to share her cannabis expertise. In fact, she’s rolling that into a bit of a side business. She is in the process of becoming a certified cannabis sommelier through B.C. company CannaReps. In the spring, she hopes to begin hosting educational workshops geared for people 55 and older. 

I find that most budtenders are much younger and have very different views and tastes when it comes to today’s array of cannabis products,” she says of her decision to target an older demographic.

Sendell says her appeal to what she calls the cannabis curious has not led to a boom in business so far. She blames rules around cannabis advertising that make it difficult to get the word out. 

Among other things, the Cannabis Act prohibits promoting cannabis through testimonials and endorsements, promoting cannabis in a way that associates it with things like recreation or alcohol, or advertising it in foreign media.

Sendell jokes that you can only promote cannabis by never using the words “cannabis” or “pot.” 

“It’s really ridiculous. It’s just about a word. So I’m also trying to navigate that,” she says. 

A mandatory review of the Cannabis Act by the federal government is currently underway. Experts and business groups such as the Cannabis Council of Canada have argued that some of the act’s public health rules and regulations hamper the ability of businesses to compete with the illegal market. 

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