Hamilton·Point of View

Councillors should not opt out of Hamilton's future on retail pot

Dispensary owner Britney Guerra argues in this opinion piece that Hamilton councillors will forgo a major economic opportunity if they opt out of retail pot.

Dispensary owner Britney Guerra argues Hamilton will miss out if council opts out, despite imperfect rules

Britney Guerra argues city hall will miss a huge economic opportunity if it opts out of retail cannabis stores. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Britney Guerra is a lifelong cannabis legalization activist. Now an entrepreneur, she is hopeful for a future as a legal participant in the cannabis Industry. 

Here we are, Hamilton. Post-legalization still arguing about cannabis shops. 

Since I opened The Medicine Cabinet (Hamilton's first dispensary) in March of 2016, Hamilton has exploded with retail cannabis stores. They have been raided by police, fined by the city, robbed, victimized by arson, and worse.

Through all of these hurdles, the stores remain uncontrolled, unregulated, and seemingly unstoppable.

The reason: The market is enormous and so is the revenue.

As my career progressed, I opened the Cannabis Culture at 275 King St. E., in Hamilton. At its peak the downtown location served over 700 customers in a 15-hour day.

All were coming to the International BIA to spend their money at a local business and then going across the street to Denninger's for lunch. Later, shopping next door at the Vintage Soul Geek. The Village was bustling.

Regulations a work in progress

Hamilton is known as the cannabis capital of Ontario to enthusiasts. People come to the city from all across this province, from Niagara to Mississauga, multiple times a week.

 Here I am, a former dispensary owner with a shuttered store, praising regulation in the hopes of a brighter future.- Britney Guerra

Folks come here from all across Ontario to experience the frontlines of modern cannabis culture. Why on earth would councillors risk letting neighbouring municipalities getting a piece of Hamilton's glory?

The Ontario government has opened up a private market and no, the regulations are not perfect. But they are a start. Here I am, a former dispensary owner with a shuttered store, praising regulation in the hopes of a brighter future. For 10 years I have dreamt of legalization and legitimization, and now the future lies in Hamilton city hall's hands. I have estimated Hamilton has spent $1.5 million in the last two years fighting dispensaries.

The province has allocated $40 million to municipalities that opt-in. Around $1.6 million of that would be allocated to Hamilton.

Britney Guerra pictured here serving customers at Cannabis Culture, a recreational marijuana dispensary that operated in the International Village. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton had the most dispensaries per capita than any other city in Canada. Some councillors are concerned with the large number of Cannabis outlets – well, that is already an issue.

The city faces this dilemma in an unregulated market.

Weed is the new steel?

However, when it comes to legal shops, the government's own rules dictate a 15-day period for public and municipal input.

That's right, people can have their say when it comes to regulated shops, and council should give them that chance by opting in.

Responsible operators would not sell to a minor to make a quick buck – not only would they risk serious charges, but also their license to carry on business, after thousands of dollars invested into the business and licencing process.

There is no concern about convenience stores selling tobacco to minors for the same reasons. The LCBO and local grocers are not selling liquor to underage patrons for the exact same reasons – their licence is worth more than a quick buck.

Some of the above-mentioned businesses are near schools, as well, and yet no intoxicated children are menacing neighbourhoods.I understand the retail rollout is not perfect, but it is progress. Consider cannabis as your caped crusader coming to raise Hamilton out of the steel wharves, and into the future: a future of tourism and retail.

Abandoned commercial buildings shall shine with a new purpose. It will bring hundreds, if not thousands, of legal jobs to the city and put money in Hamiltonians' pockets.

It is my wish that councillors "opt-in" to cannabis retail because some control is better than none. I urge council to opt-in to Hamilton's future.

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