Doug Schmidt • Windsor Star
Windsor won’t say no to private pot retailers once such sales become legal in Ontario next April, Mayor Drew Dilkens told the Star Tuesday.
In a major policy shift this week opening recreational cannabis sales to the business sector, the Doug Ford government is giving municipalities a “one-time window” to ban such private pot stores within their municipal boundaries.
“I appreciate having the power to opt out, but I’d be more interested in having some power over the locations and where they go,” said Dilkens.
Windsor’s mayor once described an intimidating encounter with “the riff-raff and the undesirables” in Denver, Colo., where recreation weed is legal. But he said the new threat is much closer to home — and the pocketbook.
“We live in an area with seven other municipalities,” he said, referring to Essex County. If Windsor says no, it just means those new businesses will set up in neighbouring towns, he said.
Possession of pot by adults for personal recreational use becomes legal in Canada on Oct. 17. Under strict guidelines established by the previous provincial Liberals, Windsor would have hosted a single, publicly owned and operated LCBO-style retail outlet. Given the looming deadline, the new Progressive Conservative government announced Monday that only online sales will be offered on that date, with a new private retail regime to be in place by April 1, 2019.
It would have been asinine for the city to say no
Consultations with business, municipalities, police and others begin next week on what it will look like, the province announced Monday. Dilkens and others say that many questions remain, including which level of government will regulate the new industry and what the new rules will include.
“It would have been asinine for the city to say no,” said local pot activist and entrepreneur Jon Liedtke. “The vast majority want this for their local economies — there’s going to be a plethora of new businesses hiring and paying taxes.”
Liedtke, co-owner of Higher Limits, a downtown cannabis lounge for medical marijuana users, hopes to be among those new pot business operators. “I’d love to have one.”
He and other insiders predict chaos on Oct. 17, when pot in Ontario becomes legal but there won’t be any bricks-and-mortar stores — at least legal ones — to purchase the drug.
“Don’t kid yourself — they already exist in Windsor,” said Liedtke.
Loire Taylor, co-owner of Kingsville’s E-Liberation, said she’s aware of at least three Windsor businesses — as well as other retail outlets across Essex County — currently selling cannabis.
E-Liberation was visited by Ontario Provincial Police two days after a profile of the business in the Star on July 28. Taylor said she was “devastated” that E-Liberation could no longer help adults with medical marijuana prescriptions.
“They said they were acting on some complaints — but those complaints could have come from local dealers,” said Taylor. The business still operates its vape shop and offers wellness products such as essential oils and defusers, but having to end cannabis sales meant “we had to get rid of three employees,” she said.
As with Liedtke in Windsor, Taylor said she’d like E-Liberation to be able to sell pot recreationally next spring, but “I don’t expect small shops like mine will see the light of day with this.”
Leo Lucier, another Windsor pot activist who wants to become a retailer, said his concern is that “the big players are going to come in and take it over.”
For licensed producer Aphria Inc. of Leamington, certainly one of the biggest players, Monday’s announcement by the Ford government represents a “huge” change in policy, said company CEO Vic Neufeld.
While there’s still “not enough detail” about what the province’s plans are for retail pot sales in Ontario, Neufeld said his company isn’t waiting.
“We’ve got our eyes and ears out there,” he said, adding that includes scouts on the ground in Windsor and across the province looking for potential bricks-and-mortar retail sites.
Were Ontario to emulate Alberta’s private-sector model, the province could see over 800 retail outlets being approved, up from the 40 locations the previous government had set as its initial aim.
“That’s a huge, huge number,” said Neufeld, adding it could mean up to five retail outlets for Windsor.
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