After a contentious city council debate followed by an 8-3 vote on Monday to “opt in” and allow retail cannabis stores, it appears there are only two licences available for a huge swath of Southwestern Ontario.
So the odds are very slim that Windsor will get a private pot store in 2019.
April 1 is the date for the first 25 stores across the province to open in cities that have opted in. The 25 businesses or individuals chosen to run them were selected by lottery Jan. 11, including seven for the massive West Region that stretches from Niagara to Windsor and includes such opted-in cities as Hamilton, Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph and London.
Four of those seven successful applicants intend to open stores in Greater Hamilton, says Olivia Brown,a cannabis consultant from that city. Another successful applicant is named the Niagara Herbalist, suggesting that store would be located in Niagara Falls or Niagara Region. That leaves just two stores for the rest of the West Region.
None of the names of the successful applicants — Steven Fry, Lisa Bigioni, Ranjit Basra, 2674253 Ontario Inc., Santino J. Coppolino and Christopher Comrie — are known to Windsor cannabis advocates who say it’s likely Windsor will be shut out in this first round.
“The way the licensing worked is you didn’t put in a licence for a municipality, you put in a licence for the region and then the (successful) individual gets to determine which municipality they want to locate in,” said Jon Liedtke, operator of the recently closed Higher Limits cannabis lounge.
While he said he’s not sure the Ontario government would allow four of the seven licences to go to one municipality, he said it’s doubtful many of the lottery winners across the province will be able to open in any case.
The deadlines are simply too tight and the financial penalties for missing the deadlines are too punitive, he said. It would take one to two weeks to incorporate, two to five weeks to secure insurance, and many more weeks to find an appropriate location, he said. Liedtke predicts some of the successful applicants won’t make the April 1 deadline. If they miss it, they’re subject to a $12,500 fine, in addition to a $6,000 licence fee. And if they’re not fully operational by the end of April, the $50,000 from the letter of credit they’re required to supply would be kept by the government.
Liedtke said industry insiders he’s spoken to believe only three to seven stores in the entire province will open by April 1. Windsor council’s decision to opt in “was more-so symbolic for us,” he said.
Brown said two reliable sources told her that four of the seven licences will go to applicants who want to locate in the Greater Hamilton area. People have asked her, “Don’t you think it’s weird that so many winners are from Hamilton?” But she says “No, not at all,” because in recent years Hamilton has become the craft cannabis capital of Canada with 86 cannabis dispensaries operating at once, mostly seven days a week. She said roughly half the approximately 12,000 applications for stores came from Hamilton, because so many Hamiltonians saw how lucrative running a pot store can be.
“Everybody knew they were thriving, everybody saw the lineups, the money coming in, the happy customers,” said Brown.
“I think that’s why. A lot of the business owners in Hamilton could see what’s going on and they want a part of it.”
She added it doesn’t make sense that the area west of Hamilton, all the way to Windsor, would get only two stores.
“But in five years we’ll have 250 stores (in Ontario) and we won’t even remember this conversation, so I think everybody should calm down, their time is coming” she said. “And if you have to drive to Hamilton for a couple of months until your city gets a store, that’s no big deal.”
The rollout of cannabis sales in the province is handled by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, whose spokesman Raymond Kahnert provided a statement to the Star on Tuesday which confirmed that individuals and businesses that applied for licences did so for the entire region, “not the actual location.”
So far, no applicant has started the process to get authorization for a store in any particular location, Kahnert said, adding that a store can be located only in a city with a population of 50,000 or more in this first round.
Once an applicant makes a request for authorization, the AGCO will post the information on its website and allow for a 15-day window for public comment, he said. His statement did not address what would happen if there’s a concentration of stores planned for one area like Hamilton, leaving fewer stores in other communities.
“You would think from a competitive standpoint it would make more sense for them not to cluster,” City of Windsor solicitor Shelby Askin Hager said. “But it’s up to them ultimately where they want to try to locate.”
She said the city will provide feedback on a retail store location if there are any concerns such as being too close to an addiction treatment centre. The city will post the notice on the city’s website as well and invite the public to have their say, she added. Then it will be up to the AGCO to either allow the store or not.
Because it appears no one from this region was picked in the lottery, Windsor will continue to have a combination of regulated (the online Ontario Cannabis Store) and unregulated (black market) cannabis sales, said advocate Leo Lucier. Given the fact that council decided one day before the Jan. 22 deadline to opt in, a retail store for Windsor is simply “not going to happen,” he said.
But he’s still encouraged by the fact eight councillors gave their OK to cannabis retail stores Monday night.
“We made progress last night, that’s a good thing,” he said.