The grass is greener

Why Canada is Joe White's preferred market for fake weed.

Meet Joe White. He's a pot-plant pusher extraordinaire, looking for a Canadian distribution partner. But the St. Louis native is nothing like the discreet marijuana dealers seen on TV. He openly opposes U.S. drug laws while marketing his product over the Internet. He'll ship his special long-lasting weed anywhere in the world — yet never worries about being busted. Law-enforcement officers have no interest in shutting him down. In fact, cops were among his best customers — before the entertainment industry came along. Simply put, White has none of the problems associated with typical grow ops. But his operation still has growing pains, and the slow Canadian border is a big part of the problem.

“Who would have guessed there was such a Canadian market for fake pot?” says White, a fifty-something marketing professional. In 2004, he launched New Image Plants LLC to sell silk marijuana. The idea was a buddy's, and White was initially skeptical, though not because of the controversial market. After all, he also runs a non-profit group called Change the Climate, which attempts to counter Uncle Sam's hard line on soft drugs. Investing in fake pot sounded risky because most people reportedly buy dope to smoke it.

After a little research, however, White found nobody was marketing high-quality novelty pot plants. He figured at least some of the estimated 140 million marijuana users around the world would be interested in such a product for home or office decorations. “We envisioned the company as an online store and found an excellent manufacturing supplier in south Florida,” he says. “Sales were slow, but several major orders kept us alive as we built our website, redesigned our website and survived manufacturing woes.”

Turned out it was strong Canadian demand that kept White's company alive during the startup years. The first big order was from a marketing outfit promoting medical marijuana spray in Canada. The second came from the Ontario Police College, which wanted to create a mock-up grow house for police training purposes. Being a marijuana-reform activist, White was reluctant to deal with cops. “Financial considerations,” he says, “won the day.”

This year, Lady Luck came knocking. In April, White got a call from set designers working for Weeds, the hit Showtime series about a mom who sells pot. “All told,” White says, “we have sold 555 products for their second season.” The $40,000 buy eliminated New Image's startup debt and turned the books black. Today, more and more drug-enforcement agencies are placing orders, while the medical community remains hooked. Like its American cousin, the Canadian entertainment industry has acquired a taste for White's offerings. CanStage in Toronto, for example, purchased some New Image plants for its recent production of Hair.

White loves Canada for its open-mindedness. In fact, in addition to setting up a distribution network, he is thinking about moving north. The irony, of course, is that local reformers could one day make his product redundant in this country. In the meantime, White says, the unofficial New Image motto remains: “We can't help it if stupid people smoke our product.”