WINDSOR STAR: Windsor among first communities to host retail pot stores

Doug Schmidt – Windsor Star – November 4, 2017

Windsor will be among the first to host a cannabis store once pot is legalized next summer.

The province on Friday identified the first 14 communities that will operate stand-alone outlets for recreational pot sales by July 2018. The Wynne Liberals announced in September that the LCBO will oversee 40 such retail locations across Ontario by July 2018, the projected start-up date set by Ottawa.

“It’s going to get nuts,” local cannabis activist Jon Liedtke predicts if Windsor and Essex County end up sharing only one such retail outlet.

Aside from the local market, Liedtke anticipates “huge” additional demand from American pot tourists crossing the border to try out what’s popular but illegal at home.

And regardless of where that retail outlet is located, “You won’t be able to get there,” said Liedtke. Customer line-ups and traffic will be heavy, he predicts.

Over the coming weeks, staff from the Ministry of Finance and the LCBO will meet with staff at the identified municipalities to discuss guidelines and the process for siting stores.

Once a specific proposed retail location is identified, “the public will have the opportunity to submit questions and comments on the intended site before it is confirmed,” according to Friday’s announcement by the LCBO.

London is the next-closest city to Windsor on the initial list of 14 host municipalities.

One of the province’s objectives is the protection of youth by ensuring pot stores are not located close to schools. The stand-alone stores are intended to provide access within communities, while also addressing the illegal market for what will remain a tightly regulated product restricted to consumers 19 years and older. While operated by LCBO staff, there will be no pot sales at existing LCBO liquor outlets.

Some are already predicting a “mess” with Ontario’s reefer rollout.

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak, the NDP’s community safety and corrections critic, called Wynne’s cannabis bill and the Liberals’ pot plan for Ontario “a really disappointing package” that leaves more questions than answers.

For one, the proposed 40 retail locations “cannot possibly serve the demand in a province the size of Ontario,” said Natyshak. By failing to locate retail outlets in some cities, and leaving urban centres underserved, “her plan won’t put a dent in organized crime or stop the flow of unregulated cannabis to the market.”

Liedtke points to the province’s more than 1,000 LCBO and Beer Store outlets, in addition to wineries and breweries and agency stores, plus licenced restaurants, bars and other establishments set up to serve booze.

“You’ve got tens of thousands of purchase points for alcohol versus 40 for cannabis,” he said.

With the coming legalization of recreational pot, but with so few retail outlets planned, “the province is creating more incentive for the black market because it’s creating huge new demand for cannabis,” said Liedtke, a medical cannabis user and co-owner of Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge in downtown Windsor.

Part of the Ontario plan is to also give access to recreational marijuana through an online channel, but Liedtke said pot users he knows won’t be keen on having to first register with the government and submit personal information.

When it comes to local economic impact alone, it likely doesn’t matter where Windsor’s single pot store goes, says Downtown Windsor Business Improvement chairman Larry Horwitz.

“Whether it’s located in the downtown or not, it’s going to have a huge effect on the downtown,” he said. His prediction is tourism, hotels, restaurants and retail will all benefit.

“No matter where you sell the cannabis, people are going to end up downtown, absolutely,” said Horwitz.

Windsor police are likely to be involved in any community discussion on where best to locate a city cannabis retail outlet.

“If it’s legal, it’s legal — our role is community safety and enforcing the law,” said department spokesman Sgt. Steve Betteridge.

By legalizing the possession and recreational use of marijuana by adults, Betteridge said it’s likely that police officers will be encountering more “impaired-by-drug” situations involving motorists. He said the department has trained “drug recognition officers.”

Next week across the border, Michigan State Police begin a one-year program in five counties where motorists will be asked to allow the swabbing of their mouths as part of an effort to cut down on “drugged driving,” which saw a 32-per-cent increase in such traffic fatalities in Michigan last year.

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