Article by Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star
Michigan is rolling out cannabis retail sales months ahead of schedule, likely snuffing out Windsor’s chance of becoming a pot tourism destination.
The state awarded its first licence this week allowing the sale of recreational marijuana — including bud, edibles, lotions and vaping products — to begin Dec. 1.
Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin said Ontario’s “ridiculous” slow rollout of retail sales after Canada legalized marijuana in Oct. 2018 — a month ahead of Michigan — will mean a missed opportunity for Windsor.
Ontario did not green light a retail outlet for Windsor until this summer. Further delays have put the owner’s plan for a Nov. 1 opening at least a month behind schedule.
“Being on the border here, we missed a huge opportunity for anything with cannabis tourism, people coming across the border to partake in it ahead of Michigan,” said Bortolin.
“We saw it with gambling. We had a lot of great years in Windsor when the casino was the only game in town and people were coming from Ohio and Michigan to gamble here. As soon as the ones in the States opened, especially in Detroit, you saw Caesars Windsor come right back down. So we missed those good opportunities.”
The Ontario Cannabis Store, and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency awarded retailer, grower and processor licences to Exclusive Brands in Ann Arbor. PSI Labs, also in Ann Arbor, received a licence as a safety compliance testing facility.
Real Leaf Solutions, based in Kalkaska, Mich., received an event organizer licence. That licence will allow the company to pull permits for events around Michigan, similar to having a licensed beer tent at a festival.
Michigan voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in November 2018. After that vote, the state was required to have rules for the industry written by Dec. 6, 2019. It had those rules ready by July. The regulatory agency began accepting applications Nov. 1. Slightly more than two weeks later, it handed out the first licences.
“Just because there was a deadline doesn’t mean we had to push it all the way to the deadline,” said regulatory agency spokesman David Harns. “We did it as quickly as we could with giving the local municipalities as much time as we could to make their decisions. We wanted to make sure the municipalities had four months to read through the rules and decide how they want to participate. Then we also wanted to get it moving as quickly as possible so that the licenced businesses could get up and running.”
He said this has been “a long time coming.”
“Obviously there’s demand for the product,” said Harns. “That’s why we’re allowing a limited amount of transfer of product from the medical side to the adult use side, so we can get that ball rolling slowly down the hill. It will start slow and gradually build up. As growers get their licences and can bring product to market, it will expand even faster.”
Unlike Ontario’s process of awarding a specific number of licences through a lottery, Michigan will just address each application as it comes.
“As they are approved they will be handed out here and there,” said Harns. “There’s no magic number or magic speed. As the inspections get done and as the criteria are met we’ll start to hand out those licences.”
Windsor was allotted its only store during the second provincial lottery in August.
Kirk Anastasiadis, who plans to open Rose City Cannabis at 545 Ouellette Ave., hoped to be up and running by Nov. 1. Anastasiadis, from London, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
But he previously told the Star his licensing process was delayed when some disqualified lottery winners launched a class-action lawsuit against the AGCO.
Earlier this month, city planner Thom Hunt sent a last-minute letter to the alcohol and gaming commission opposing the application for the store based on concerns about safety, traffic congestion, and loitering. On Monday, city council voted to revoke administration’s ability to oppose or endorse cannabis stores.