'Tall task' for legal Hamilton pot shops to open by April 1, owner says
2 shops in Hamilton are under construction, while shops in Burlington and Niagara have been licenced
April 1 is the first day legal storefront pot shops can open in Ontario — but it's going to be tough for stores in the Hamilton area to meet that deadline and be ready for business, one store owner says.
"It's been a tall task for anybody to make that work," said Steven Fry, who is scrambling to open an outlet of western Canadian cannabis chain Canna Cabana at the Centre on Barton.
"I think there will be some open, but for me, April 20 is the absolute soonest I'd be open."
A consultant working with the Hello Cannabis Store set to open in Dundas echoed those statements to The Hamilton Spectator, saying people "should not expect them to be open by April 1."
Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) spokesperson Raymond Kahnert told CBC News in an email that although 25 stores will be able to open in Ontario on April 1, it's "certainly clear" not all of them will be.
I think with cannabis, people really want to smell and see the product and talk to experts and learn more about it.- Steven Fry, Canna Cabana
"It's too early to say how many will be," he said, adding that in the next few days, the AGCO will post an interactive map that will show the status of stores in the province, including those approved to open on April 1.
"We will only licence operators and authorize stores once satisfied they have met all legal and regulatory requirements. For the AGCO, our primary focus remains on safeguarding the public interest and ensuring the integrity of Ontario's cannabis retail system."
As of Thursday, the AGCO's website showed 10 licences had been issued in the province, but neither location in Hamilton was officially licenced. A licence has been granted to The Niagara Herbalist in St. Catharines, as well as RELM Cannabis on Fairview Street in Burlington.
A 'host of challenges'
All stores jockeying for licences have to undergo a 15-day public notice period. Fry has finished that part of the process, so now he must provide those responses from the public to the AGCO and then get site inspections done. Construction at the 2,400-square-foot store is ongoing.
"In some cases we're doubling the shifts, in some cases tripling the shifts, in the day, in the evening and sometimes overnight to make sure the store is open by April 20," he said.
There's a "host of challenges" for stores to meet in the setup process, he said, including hiring staff and contractors, getting city permits settled, as well as settling security systems, payroll, and making sure all the AGCO's regulations are followed.
The black market is ever present, Fry said, but he's convinced people will want to buy legally, and will travel from neighbouring centres to do it — considering nearby cities like Kitchener won't have any stores.
"My hope is I can win the hearts and minds of consumers vis a vis having a licensed product that's Health Canada approved, and have a shopping experience that's for people young or old, experienced or new in this industry," he said.
"I think with cannabis, people really want to smell and see the product and talk to experts and learn more about it. I would compare it to purchasing a fine bottle of wine — you don't necessarily want to purchase that online, per se."
Penalties to be issued for late openings
With stores in tough to make that April 1 opening date, they could face penalties with the province.
The terms of the agreement with the AGCO allows the province to draw upon $50,000 letters of credit to compensate, to the tune of $12,500 for the first day a store isn't open, and an additional $12,500 if they aren't open on April 15.
An additional $25,000 is then lost if they aren't open by the end of April.
Kahnert said the AGCO "clearly states" that only businesses that were committed and in a "realistic position" to meet the deadline should have participated in the lottery that doled out licences.
"Applicants were aware of this before they chose to participate in the lottery," he said.
The province does have the discretion not to draw on those letters, he noted, but that would only happen in "exceptional circumstances" where a store couldn't open because of things out of the applicant's control.
"The registrar will proceed with the first draw down if the reason stores are not open would have been avoidable had the applicant been in a realistic position to open a store within the required timelines when they chose to participate in the lottery," he said.