How BDT Smoke Shops weathered the War on Drugs

Jul 30, 2019 at 11:48 am
Curt Goure.
Curt Goure. Larry Gabriel

Through all the openings and shutdowns of marijuana-related businesses in recent years, there has been a constant — BDT Smoke Shops. There is no marijuana sold at these locations, which were once known as head shops, but the legal hazards of selling seemingly innocuous pipes, papers, and bongs have been real. The Federal Drug Paraphernalia Statute is part of the Controlled Substances Act, and many states have laws prohibiting the sale of "drug paraphernalia."

Actor-comedian-businessman Tommy Chong went to jail in 2003 because bongs with his name on them were sold on the internet. Just like the Chong case, this don't-touch-tools-of-the-devil approach in the War on Drugs also had the owners of BDT in court defending their business. Curt Goure, owner of the BDT brand and the Hazel Park store, knows well the emotions and legal pitfalls of getting into a business related to marijuana.

"There were some pretty delicate times in our history prior to 10 years ago," says Goure of BDT's 47 years in business. "It went on for 20 years. I've always moonlighted in another business, always. I've always had not only the BDT gig, but I've always done something else, just because we didn't know literally the following day if we would be in business. ... Now the city welcomes our business and realizes we are serious businesses."

Goure has been a big supporter of marijuana legalization efforts. His businesses have been visible and vocal. He's hosted 420 events at the Hazel Park store, and last week, the store hosted the Jazz Cabbage podcast from Jamie Lowell and Rick Thompson, two longtime cannabis activists who have moved into promoting businesses.

On the business end of things, Goure faces challenges. Where BDT once had something of a corner on the market, smoke shops have since proliferated. On top of that, the very industry that Goure championed is slowly eating away at his own viability.

"It's significantly more challenging in the industry, specifically the head shop," says Goure. "Cannabis sellers, when they open up, they carry products very similar to ours."

Head shop items are pretty much what cannabis sellers can sell to diversify their product lines to enhance profits. And they have the main product that keeps more people coming in the door. BDT has customer loyalty, but also faces the challenge of staying relevant, where a head shop is nowhere near the vanguard of the industry. Far from it.

"I'd love to carry the oils that have cannabis in them," says Goure in reference to THC, as the BDT locations do carry hemp-derived CBD now. "As a store that has been in business for 47 years now, we've seen the market change and we've seen the new customers come in. The top question they have when they walk in the door is, 'When are you going to sell weed?'"

Like almost anybody else who wants to sell the stuff, Goure doesn't have an answer for that. (Michigan is expected to have recreational pot stores open next year.) He definitely hopes to become licensed to sell, and is exploring the possibilities as more municipalities opt in to the state's marijuana sales system. He's staying up on which municipalities will allow marijuana businesses and how many licenses are planned. There are some inside track aspects to having been in business for decades, but there are no guarantees.

And his 20-year relationship with Chong's operation doesn't hurt. Goure says that he has Midwest licensing rights to the Chong's Choice product line, and that he is in discussions with growers in the state to possibly produce Chong-endorsed strains. That bit of branding could help give BDT the competitive edge in the public eye.

Chong has made appearances at the Hazel Park BDT and received the key to the city from then-mayor Janice Parisi in 2015. (Chong, in turn, handed her a fake joint, which he referred to as the "key to the world.") So it's not like the city has a problem with marijuana businesses. It's just that things have been slow in developing, and there will be a limited number of licenses available in places where BDT stores are located. For instance, Ferndale has legislated to have three provisioning centers, and those are already granted and stand ready to open.

A look at the state map of currently licensed medical marijuana facilities shows the three provisioning centers in Ferndale. In nearby Hazel Park, a safety compliance facility and a secure transporter have been licensed. Those are located along the stretch of John R near the BDT in Hazel Park. As of last week, other than the Greenhouse provisioning center and Iron Labs safety compliance facility in Walled Lake, those were the only licenses on the map for Oakland County. If you throw in the BDT locations in Hazel Park and Ferndale, that is the main marijuana zone in Oakland County.

The Ferndale locations are somewhat intriguing. Gage Cannabis Co., Green Budda, and LIV Wellness Center are clustered east of Woodward along Hilton Road and off Nine Mile. There are plans for facilities in other communities, but this is the biggest cannabis footprint in the county to date. It's a bit ironic since it was in Ferndale that the County Sheriff Mike Bouchard made the biggest splash with cracking down on dispensaries when it took down Clinical Relief, then located on Hilton, on Aug. 25 2010.

A contractor at the Green Budda location reports that everything there is ready to go except for getting cannabis supplies. Gage is advertising an August opening. So it looks like these places will make their debut in the same month that the sheriff took Oakland County cannabis down nearly a decade ago.

The real prize for Goure would be to get licenses to grow, process, and sell marijuana. He and his partners would like to have a vertically integrated company that can take a plant from start to finish. If not, "the microbusiness definitely intrigues us," Goure says. They have a base of loyal customers already from their years in business, and Chong's name is one of the oldest brands in marijuana.

So far, the state system has mostly catered to big-money investors who could meet the high capitalization requirements that medical marijuana had under the former regulatory agency. That same advantage will continue in the first year of adult-use licenses, since one of those requirements for the five previously established categories of cannabis businesses is that applicants already have a medical marijuana license.

Goure and his partners hope to get in somewhere down the line. They don't have any medical marijuana licenses, so it will take some patience to get into the market. It seems that the BDT brand is deserving for having been there when almost no one else was there. In the meantime, Goure has been working for years to get a hemp museum off the ground at the Hazel Park store, with bits of memorabilia, posters, and flyers garnered from years of supporting the cause. He says his favorite artifact he has is an original poster advertising the Reefer Madness movie from its 1936 release. It's a piece of the puzzle that would make for a good exhibit.

In the long run, it will be very puzzling to customers if for some reason BDT is not part of the marijuana landscape — after being there before the beginning.

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