Kyle St. Hilaire is only stopping in Vancouver for a few days before getting back to his cross-country road trip. Three weeks ago, the 25-year-old entrepreneur hit the highway in his converted 1995 Dodge camper van, named Big Blue, to spread the word about his line of environmentally conscious rolling papers.
Holed up in a café in the heart of Gastown, the Canadian cannabis nomad shares the story of how a trip to Madagascar in 2016 inspired his mission to combat global deforestation, one joint at a time.
“It’s primarily foreign companies that go into Third World countries and mine and fish and log, sucking up the resources without having the proper licences or following regulation,” St. Hilaire tells a Georgia Straight reporter.
“If they get caught, they just pay their way out of trouble. Because of that, almost 97 percent of the rainforest and fauna in Madagascar is destroyed, just completely gone. There is barren land everywhere.”
On his trip, St. Hilaire was offered a job to stay in the region, working for a mining and resource company. He turned down the opportunity and returned to Canada, where he would launch his latest venture, Hazo Rolling Papers.
“I’ve always worked in the cannabis industry in some manner, either trimming or making hash,” he says, most recently working as a dispensary manager in Vernon, B.C.
“I wanted to create a low-ticket item with a social cause attached to it that wasn’t going to get caught up in the miles of red tape coming with the then-pending legalization of cannabis,” he says.
A long-time medical-cannabis consumer himself, St. Hilaire decided on a line of rolling papers, and he says unbleached organic hemp stayed true to his passion for clean, low-impact products. The word hazo, he explains, means tree in Malagasy, the national language of Madagascar—fitting, given that each pack sold plants a mangrove tree along the coast of the island.
“Mangroves are native to the region,” he says. “When you lose the mangroves, everything in and around those areas, the wildlife, starts to die.”
Since launching in July 2017, the company has planted about 30,000 trees in partnership with Eden Reforestation Project. The nonprofit organization implements Hazo’s planting initiative overseas and is responsible for planting more than 250 million trees in countries like Nepal and Ethiopia.
He says the partnership with Eden was an easy choice based on their socially conscious approach to environmental renewal. The organization hires farmers living in the regions to plant trees in the most affected areas, creating a source of income and economic viability within impoverished villages.
St. Hilaire says that although his focus now is on restoring Madagascar’s forests, he hopes that with more sales he can create papers specific to different regions.
“We may create themed packs that go to planting in other countries that see the same problems, like Indonesia or Haiti,” he says.
Hazo was recently nominated in the best-rolling-paper category in this year’s Canadian Cannabis Awards, alongside Kronico Limited and Zenabis 2-in-1. Public voting for the award closes on October 26 and winners will be announced at the Canadian Cannabis Awards gala in Toronto at the end of November.
Next, St. Hilaire is heading to the Interior of B.C. to visit dispensaries that have weathered the first week of federal legalization. After that, he plans on visiting stores across Calgary, Edmonton, and Regina.
Hazo just launched an online store and has teamed up with leading cannabis-accessory distributors BobHQ and humble + fume to put its papers in brick-and-mortar stores, and St. Hilaire says the road trip has been a fun way to get the word out.