What Pot Entrepreneurs Think Of The Province’s Plan To Sell Marijuana At Government Stores

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Jamie McConnell Owner of Sea of Green, a Toronto dispensary. What pot entrepreneurs think of the province’s plan to sell marijuana at government stores

Last month, the Ontario government released its proposed framework for distributing marijuana in Ontario, once marijuana is legalized. Rather than legitimize illegal private storefront dispensaries, which have proliferated in Toronto over the past two years, Queen’s Park has decided to create a government-run pot retail chain. The plan calls for the LCBO to be in charge of all of Ontario’s weed sales, starting with 40 standalone stores in July. The legal age for buying marijuana would be 19. As for private dispensaries? Queen’s Park says they “are not and will not be legal retailers.” In an attempt to find out how private cannabis entrepreneurs are absorbing the news, and what they’re planning to do next, we spoke with a few of them. Here’s what they said:

Clinton Younge CEO of MMJ Canada, a chain of dispensaries. What pot entrepreneurs think of the province’s plan to sell marijuana at government stores

Clinton Younge

CEO of MMJ Canada, a chain of dispensaries

What was your reaction to the province’s proposal to sell marijuana in government-run stores?
I was disappointed but I was not surprised. Everyone would have been foolish to think that the government was going to come out with regulations that were very loose.

What are some changes you would make?
I would love to be a licensed retailer. I would love to follow a government regime. I’m already paying taxes. I would like to see a craft model for dispensaries. I would like to see an organization that governs it.

What do you think about the 19-or-older age restriction?
I agree with it. Your brain is not fully developed as a teenager.

What percentage of cannabis users do you think will avoid government marijuana completely?
At first, when the Cannabis Control Board of Ontario gets created, people are gonna go there. They’re gonna go, “Whoa, this is neat!” If the government keeps up with quality, and sets fair market prices, they may see a fair percentage go. If they don’t allow a craft market, though, you may get more people who are upset, who go to the black market. Cannabis people want to know the breakdown, they want to know the bud structure, they want to know the strain specifics, they want to know the type of high, the smell, the taste, and how it feels. And they want to be able to look at it. That might become an issue if it becomes extremely corporate.

Is it possible the province is starting conservatively with its regulatory model and we might see changes?
I think they’ll start introducing things as the pressure comes on, as the constitutional challenges happen. There are going to be Charter challenges. I don’t believe everything people say about Kathleen Wynne is true. I think she is going to make some moves that are going to benefit small businesspeople. It doesn’t seem that way now, but I’m being positive and hopeful.

Things are about to get difficult for you, legally. What are your plans for the future?
We’ve gotta prepare for the bumpy road ahead. I just left city hall. I explained why not including the private model with the public model could be harmful. I believe I’ve structured my company well enough that we could last in one way or another.

Do you have any changes planned for your company?
We’re going to be patient. We don’t want to make an emotional decision. We’re going to hold off for the next little while. We’ve been meeting with licensed producers, doing gatherings with dispensaries. We’re hearing out the whole industry.

Will you maintain your Toronto locations for the time being?
Yes. Because we’re medicinal, I believe we’re going to come to this on a Charter challenge or a constitutional challenge.

Abi “Roach” (not her real last name) Owner of the Hotbox, a Cannabis lounge in Kensington Market, and director of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association. What pot entrepreneurs think of the province’s plan to sell marijuana at government stores

Abi “Roach” (not her real last name)

Owner of the Hotbox, a Cannabis lounge in Kensington Market, and director of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association

What was your reaction to the province’s proposal to sell marijuana in government-run stores?
Shocked but not shocked. Shocked because it hits you and it’s like someone shot your dog—these people are completely unreasonable, they have no clue what they’re doing. But not shocked, because this is the Ontario Liberals, and this is how they run the province.

What are some changes you would make to Queen’s Park’s marijuana sales framework?
First off, I would allow private retail. That creates more jobs, it fills in more empty spaces, it puts more money in the pockets of people, more money in the pockets of small business. It creates a level playing field which creates a better marketplace for the consumer.

What do you think about the 19-or-older age restriction?
I’m fine with that. We don’t want to encourage kids to be smoking anything.

What percentage of cannabis users do you think will avoid government marijuana completely?
A lot. Anyone who smokes more than a joint a week. Maybe someone like my father who, every 10 years, has a puff with his friends, will really enjoy going to the Cannabis Control Board of Ontario and the comfort of it. It’s great for the casual consumer, but for the real cannabis consumer, they want to see what they’re buying, they want to smell what they’re buying, they want to know that the person in front of them understands what they’re talking about.

Will there be any new customers?
Of course, but then they realize that there’s a whole world outside this CCBO model. Once they find a new dealer, it’s done. They’re never going to go back. Why would they?

Things are about to get difficult for you, legally speaking. What are your plans for the future?
I’ve been riding the grey line of the law for a very, very long time. And my theory is, just go with it. They give you an inch, you take an inch and a half. I will never take a foot. But I won’t go backwards. If they want to close down cannabis lounges, they’re gonna find out pretty soon that they’re gonna have to re-open them. I have a big storefront, I have great a clientele, I’m awesome at retail. Our online store’s launching next week. I have retail partnerships. There’s a whole slew of things that I could be doing. Or I could just pack up my stuff and go to my house in Jamaica and do everything legally. I have options.

You have a house in Jamaica?
We have a “bud and breakfast” in Jamaica. We get cannabis consumers from all over the world.

Would you really close down the business here and do that full time?
Oh yeah, I love Jamaica. But I’m such an entrepreneur and my brain is a going million miles an hour. I love being there for two months at a time. But it’s island time. I go a little bonkers; I’m a city slicker.

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