Lack of cannabis retail stores in Waterloo region means black market will carry on: Police chief
'What we’re seeing is business carrying on in the underground market,' Larkin says
When 25 retail cannabis stores are allowed to open in the province on Monday, none will be having a grand opening in Waterloo region and that's a problem for police, says Chief Bryan Larkin.
The provincial government opted to allow a limited number of stores to open as of April 1, although not all of them will be ready to open on Monday. Those who are permitted to open won a lottery for cannabis retail store licenses and learned of their win in January.
Waterloo region was not chosen by any of the winners as a location for a store. The closest retail stores will be in London, the Hamilton area and Toronto. People can also purchase pot online.
"It's unfortunate," Larkin said in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.
"One of the key recommendations of the end of prohibition of cannabis ... it was designed to actually create a regulated, controlled and lawful market and so it's concerning that our community [and] users will not have access to regulated, controlled stores."
Larkin says a retail market would have targeted illicit trafficking, organized crime, the grey market, the underground market and it would provide customers with a safe supply.
"We were hoping from a policing perspective and from a chief's perspective that the province would be ready to transition to retail stores at the end of the month. Clearly that won't happen for our region, so it does present challenges. Are they insurmountable? No, they're not insurmountable," he said.
"In many different ways what we're seeing is business carrying on in the underground market," Larkin said, adding officers will continue to focus on illicit storefronts as they pop up.
Impact to relationship between police and youth
Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo says she's also concerned about not having any local cannabis stores.
"One of my biggest concerns, and one of our biggest concerns as part of the official Opposition, is that. That this will contribute to the black market," she said.
But she also raised concerns about what this could mean for young people and in particular, young black people.
"I get worried about the fact that, across the province and including within our region, young, black males are often pulled over, questioned, carded more than others. And so the number of stereotypes that go with that, having this opportunity now where cannabis is legal … the fact that you might be high or acting as though you're high could be a reason now to stop people, question them," she said.
- Rumours of pot store in Cambridge led retailers to other locations, leaving Waterloo region with none
- There are only 7 retail pot licenses for an area of Ontario the size of Nova Scotia
Lindo says she worries about the impact it could have on the relationship between police and the community.
She questions the way retail cannabis stores have been rolled out in the province.
"Why did the government choose to do it this way? Why not follow through with the idea of having this done in establishments that are already open like the LCBOs?" she said.
"Sometimes I think, with this particular government, the goal is to move too quickly without providing enough time to think through how this is going to impact folks."
More stores once there's 'enough reliable supply'
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Finance said the province is providing $40 million over two years to municipalities to help with the implementation costs of recreational cannabis legislation.
That money can be used for things like increased enforcement, both by police and bylaw, as well as court administration, an increased response to public inquiries, and paramedic and fire services calls related to the legislation.
The spokesperson noted in an email the province limited the number of stores allowed to open on April 1 "as a temporary measure due to the national supply shortage of cannabis."
It's unclear how stores in the province will receive licenses in the future or when that process may start. Jon Conquergood, CEO of Corner Cannabis, which wants to open a store in Waterloo region when the process opens again, said it's his understanding the next round could come in December.
The ministry spokesperson did not provide a timeline when asked.
"When Ontario has determined that the federal government has provided for enough reliable supply, Ontario will issue further retail store licenses," the emailed statement said.