Article by Graeme McNaughton, Guelph Mercury Tribune
More than $1 million in contracts were signed for a provincially run cannabis retail store in Guelph that never opened its doors. And the province may still be paying for a building that still stands empty.
According to documents obtained by the Mercury Tribune through a Freedom of Information request, the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation — the provincial Crown corporation that operates wholesale cannabis sales in the province via the Ontario Cannabis Store — and the LCBO agreed to approximately $1.2 million in contracts, taxes included, for various projects related to the planned cannabis retail store on Stone Road West, across the road from Stone Road Mall.
The agency had initially denied the release of any documents when the request was filed in 2018. However, following an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, a number of documents were released. Some information continues to be held back, and is currently subject to an appeal by the Mercury Tribune.
Of the money detailed in the release documents, more than half of that — nearly $780,000, including taxes — was for construction costs related to the project.
Other contracts signed include more than $280,000 for various supplies for building the store’s interior and nearly $17,000 in additional funds to the same business to install them; more than $12,000 for designing the new store and more than $2,800 for a speaker system for the store.
However, it remains unclear how much of these contracts were paid out as the terms extend to after the province announced changes in policy around recreational cannabis sales.
It is also unclear if any of the material goods were delivered and, if so, what happened to them.
In an email to the Mercury Tribune Monday afternoon, Daffyd Roderick, spokesperson for the Ontario Cannabis Store, declined to comment, saying “the OCS does not comment on commercial matters as a matter of policy.”
Scott Blodgett, spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance, directed all questions to OCS.
Weed store up in smoke
On Aug. 13, 2018, the newly elected PC government under Premier Doug Ford announced it would be moving away from the LCBO-style stores announced by the previous Liberal government, instead moving towards privately owned and operated physical stores that would start to open in April 2019.
In November 2017, the Mercury Tribune first reported that Guelph had been selected to be one of the first places in the province to legally purchase marijuana.
Under the previous Liberal government, the province planned to establish and operate its own cannabis retail stores, operating them much like it does with the LCBO.
By April 2018, a location for the promised store had been named — 314 Stone Rd W. It was also expected to be one of the first 40 stores to be open by the time recreational cannabis was legal that coming October.
According to documents obtained by the Mercury Tribune, the lease for the future store was signed weeks before any official announcement was made, with the province signing on the dotted line March 22, 2018, and the landlord signing four days later.
The province was to have possession of the property no later than June 1, signing a five-year lease.
The amount being paid in rent, the tenant’s share of the operating costs, the terms for an early termination of the lease or any other commissions that would need to be paid were all redacted from the documents obtained by the Mercury Tribune.
When contacted by the Mercury Tribune in August 2018, shortly after the change in provincial policy, a spokesperson for the OCRC said the lease would be honoured, and that the organization was looking at what to do with the would-be storefronts.
It is unclear if the OCRC still holds the lease on the property, or if it utilized the early termination clause of the lease.
The Mercury Tribune is currently appealing this decision with the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.
‘Completely bungled it’
With the store continuing to sit vacant, Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner says the Ford government needs to be more transparent with how much it cost the province to change course when it comes to cannabis sales.
“The fact that they’re not being open and transparent, it’s deeply problematic,” Schreiner adds.
The Ontario Green Party leader says he was opposed to the LCBO-like model put in place by the previous Liberal government, and that the move to a private model was a step in the right direction.