Article by Richard Leitner HamiltonNews.com
Cameron Brown says a reporter’s spelling slip-up in Googling The Hunny Pot’s name highlights a key challenge for legal cannabis shops like the fifth location his Toronto-based chain just opened near Eastgate Square.
Type “Honey Pot Stoney Creek” in a web search, as the reporter did, and the top result is an online store touting itself as a “professional medical marijuana dispensary.”
The honeypotstore.ca website offers products not approved by Health Canada, and in far greater potencies and quantities than The Hunny Pot can sell.
They include “triple strength” gummies, pounds of pot, a half kilo of black Afghan gold hash for $4,000 and “shatter,” a highly concentrated extract smoked using a heated nail and pipe.
Apart from the name, the Honey Pot’s website is virtually identical to one for Georgia Peach, which ran four illegal shops in Hamilton before being shut down by police early last year. Both sites offer same-day delivery, with payment by e-transfer only.
Only the Honey Pot offers a phone number, and neither lists a physical address. Customers must register as members and provide personal contact details, but that appears to be about it.
Brown, spokesperson for The Hunny Pot, says legal stores are trying to push out such black-market competitors, but the inability to even advertise their existence is a major obstacle.
Georgia Peach distributed a flyer to Hamilton households earlier this year, for instance, and he says an illegal dispensary in Toronto has done likewise, offering a free pre-rolled joint for every three products ordered.
“For the legal market to continue to be able to eat away at that, there has to be changes to marketing regulations,” says Brown, whose Hunny Pot opened Ontario’s first legal store in Toronto on April 1, 2019.
Legalization has evolved since then with the addition of edibles, oils and drinks last October, he says, and prices have gradually dropped to meet or beat illegal competitors, with a top brand of weed selling for just over $3.25 per gram for a 28-gram bag.
“These are competitive prices, but the ability to not say that out loud and to say there are other options for you has definitely limited the exposure to come to the legal market,” Brown says. “These are safe and tested products by Health Canada as well.”
Cabbage Brothers in Dundas — initially called Hello Cannabis — became Hamilton’s second legal shop, opening on April 26, 2019, after winning one of 25 licences in an Ontario-wide lottery.
Three more shops have followed since the province moved to an open application process in January, with about another three dozen Hamilton applications awaiting decisions.
Oliver Coppolino, general manager at Cabbage Brothers, says the experience so far has been a bit of a “roller-coaster,” especially with COVID-19, which temporarily forced stores to close and then move to delivery and curbside pickup.
But he says the fully reopened shop is thriving, drawing customers from the Waterloo area and beyond, despite “real organized crime” competitors like Georgia Peach, which brazenly put lawn signs in a grassy area in front of his store last summer.
Coppolino says although illegal weed remains readily available, his shop’s customers are increasingly interested in the finer details of their purchases beyond simple potency, like taste, smell, type of high and extraction processes for oils and extracts.
Unlike illegal ones, edibles, beverages and other products are capped at 10 mg of THC per package, he says, but lower potency is a sensibly cautious approach, given many people may be new to them.
“You know that there’s consistency,” he says. “You can feel very confident that out of the two chocolates you buy, if they’re both 10 milligrams and they’re the same product, they’re going to be equal strength. You’re not going to find one completely destroys you and the other one doesn’t actually seem to have anything in it.”
While Cabbage Brothers has had little legal competition since opening, Coppolino says he isn’t worried about the three dozen proposed stores saturating the Hamilton market, even if all are approved.
“There is more than enough business in Hamilton to support 30 stores. How many convenience stores are there in Hamilton, how many liquor stores are there in Hamilton?” he says.
“It’s a different animal obviously than either of those things, but there’s a huge, huge market. But it comes down to will people buy it from the store or are they going to keep buying it from a delivery company or from their buddy who lives down the street.”
The city and neighbours of two proposed Hamilton stores — at The Attic pizzeria in Stoney Creek, and a former variety store near Fiddlers Green Road and Hwy. 403 in Ancaster — would rather people buy at another legal shop.
But whether formal opposition to both bids will have any effect remains to be seen because the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has yet to reject a single store application since the province moved to an open market on Jan. 2.