Kitchener-Waterloo

Here's what's changed in southwest Ontario 1 year after marijuana legalization

With the anniversary of marijuana legalization this week, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo looks at what's changed in Kitchener-Waterloo, including pot shops, the black market and opportunities for growers and research.

The black market is still an issue in the region, according to local police and a Kitchener grower

Fernando Carcamo lights up his joint in downtown Kitchener, but doesn't get his supply through the Ontario Cannabis Store. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

After months of anticipation, nobody was lining up for marijuana on Oct. 17, 2018 in Ontario.

They simply couldn't, as the actual pot shops hadn't opened in the province yet. All sales through the Ontario Cannabis Store were processed online.

A lot has changed in a year. With the anniversary of marijuana legalization this week, here's what's changed in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Pot shops

Last year, the province held a lottery to determine which 25 applicants could open the first pot shops in the province.

There still aren't any provincially licenced stores where you can buy marijuana in Waterloo region. 

The closest shops are in Hamilton, Burlington and London.

But the lack of brick-and-mortar stores isn't expected to be the reality for much longer.

After a dozen retailers were disqualified from the application process for the next round of pot shops, new retailers were given a chance to apply.

There are plans for two stores in Kitchener, although the licences haven't been issued yet.

Black market

Fernando Carcamo enjoys a daily afternoon joint along King Street in downtown Kitchener.

He doesn't get his marijuana through provincial channels though.

"I think the quality could get a little better, as in the THC percentage the government sells, that's the only reason I don't buy off them," said Carcamo.

"I think they need to fix their system, it was too rushed."

At least one person has been charged in the region for "unlawfully purchased cannabis" since the legalization of marijuana last year.

The black market is still an issue for the Waterloo region and surrounding areas, according to local police services.

"There still is the black market ... Several of the possession charges that have been laid include illegally possessed cannabis," said  Wellington County OPP Const. Joshua Cunningham.

Nathan Woodworth, president and CEO of licensed cannabis producer James E. Wagner in Kitchener, agrees the black market is thriving.

"We are not yet replacing or supplanting the black market," said Woodworth.

"The timelines and the burden of trying to get to scale and to bring products to market are simply so prohibitive that we haven't been able to give people enough choice."

Opportunities for growers and research

Legalization has also brought opportunity for Wagner and other local growers.

Last week, James E. Wagner doubled its production capacity to 23,000 square feet, meaning the company will break into the recreational market. The cannabis producer initially only sold medical marijuana.

Nathan Woodworth, president and CEO of James E. Wagner, said the cannabis industry hasn't replaced the black market yet. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Research on marijuana growth is also ramping up at the University of Guelph's Ontario Agricultural College.

Construction on a licenced research facility to grow marijuana is expected to start early next year, according to Rene Van Acker, the dean of the college.

"We're looking at very practical things like pest management, fertilizers and growing conditions ... the biggest challenges in the industry to meeting demands for the product."

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