One of Vancouver’s well-known hospitality companies is being criticized for using a term associated with homeless people in the name of its new chain of recreational weed stores.
Donnelly Group, the company behind a slew of pubs and bars in Vancouver and Toronto, is opening a chain of Hobo Recreational Cannabis Stores in BC and Ontario. The first of nine stores will open in Ottawa on April 1.
In an email, Harrison Stoker, the vice-president of brand and culture for Donnelly Group, told VICE that their use of the word “hobo” refers to the travelling workers of the 1920s.
“The word evokes a sense of wanderlust, and implies a passion for the journey over the actual, final destination,” Stoker explained.
“The team behind Hobo fell in love with the idea of a journey, in the context of cannabis, having both literal and figurative meaning, i.e.: the journey one might embark on in their own mind while imbibing.”
In late 19th century America, soldiers who were jobless after the Civil War began sneaking onto freight trains in search of work. They came to be known as “hoboes.” The trend was exacerbated during the Great Depression. Hoboes made up their own code—symbols they would ascribe to surfaces in towns they visited in order to warn other hoboes of danger or help them find camps.
These days, the word "hobo" is also used to describe homeless people.
VICE asked Donnelly if the company had any concerns about linking its weed stores to a word that is associated with homeless people.
“Language is important to us at Donnelly Group, much like generating dialogue between people,” Stoker said. “After researching the term, hobo, our team loved that the word, at its core, symbolized a sense of wander and travel. We, personally, identified with that sense of wanderlust and journey — over a vagrant or homeless person — and what it could bring to the cannabis community in Canada.”
But the company’s branding is already being criticized as offensive.
“The fact that he doesn't consider it to have a negative connotation is a blatant example of his privilege,” Ottawa-based social worker Courtney Davis told VICE.
Davis, who lives near the location where Hobo’s first shop will open, said the situation is another example of how the new cannabis industry is “increasingly gentrified and exclusive of many groups.”
“There are still many people in this country who have been criminalized for their cannabis use and advocacy, and being criminalized puts them at higher risk of experiencing homelessness,” Davis continued. “There is literally no reason to use a stigmatizing word to sell a product that itself is still stigmatized.”
Davis said if Donnelly wants to convey messages of wanderlust and journey, the company should use words like “wanderlust” and “journey.”
Vancouver-based Facebook user Cameron Crillz wrote a post slamming the company’s naming choice, especially in light of that city’s housing crisis.
“The Donnelly Group is opening a chain of nine dispensaries named ‘Hobo’ because they are completely unaware of Vancouver’s housing crisis and how drug related offenses disproportionately affect certain sections of the population,” he wrote.
Abi Roach, a longtime cannabis advocate and owner of HotBox Cafe in Toronto’s Kensington Market, said she doesn’t think the name Hobo is a wise choice for a weed store.
“It’s weird. Are there trains? Can I jump on? Do I need to come in with a sack? It’s just weird, it’s such an old-fashioned word, nobody even says it. Who even says the word ‘hobo?’” said Roach.
Stoker said the company’s logo, which looks like a crossed out egg, is based on the Hobo Code and means a “good road to follow.”
Hobo Recreational Cannabis’ tagline is “not all who wander are lost.”
Store interiors will feature "a mix of contemporary aesthetics rooted in simple and functional Japanese and Scandinavian design, offset with some bohemian notes around travel, style, and art," Stoker said.
Ontario’s first 25 legal pot shops are slated to open on April 1—more than five months after legalization. Hobo isn’t the only striking name on the list of soon-to-be-open weed vendors.
Other licence winners include Smok, Canna Cabana, Fabulous Leaf, and The Hunny Pot Cannabis Co., named after its owner.
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