London

What legalization means for 3 Londoners in the weed business

With pot use set to become legal this fall, CBC London spoke with three local Londoners about how the changes will affect their existing cannabis-based businesses

Some want a piece of the lucrative retail market slated to become a government monopoly

A marijuana plant grown at Indiva, a medical-grade cannabis producer in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Come Oct. 17, Canadians will be able to legally purchase and consume recreational marijuana. 

But the legalization doesn't mean anyone can legally sell pot, raising questions for store-front dispensaries who've been operating illegally for the past few years. 

Prior to her resounding defeat earlier this month, outgoing premier Kathleen Wynne had plans for Ontario to sell recreational pot through a government-run monopoly retail store. 

And while incoming premier Doug Ford has said he's no fan of government getting into private business, he's not been clear about whether or not he'll scrap the Liberals' plan.

We asked three London pot entrepreneurs for their take on the new legislation, and what lies ahead. Here's what they said.  

The licensed, large-scale medical producer

Koby Smutylo is the chief operating officer, general counsel and director of Indiva, a London-based, licensed producer of medical cannabis. Indiva operates out of a 10,000 square foot production facility and plans to expand from 25 to 50 employees by the end of the year. 

Koby Smutylo of Indiva, a licensed producer of medical marijuana based in London, says the legislation is an important first step.

Smutylo said his company has for years been preparing for legalization.

"It gives us certainty," he said. "This helps us answer that 'what-if' question for our shareholders and investors. People have been trying to plan around an uncertain situation, and this clarifies that and allows us to move forward without any doubt."

He doesn't think the legislation is perfect, but said it's a good first step that balances the competing demands of a fast-growing industry. 

However, Smutylo said he'd like Indiva to be able to sell directly via mail-order to recreational users, but that won't be allowed in the new legislation. 

Smutylo spoke to CBC News from Washington State, where recreational cannabis use has been legal since 2012. He says there the market is more mature, with dispensaries selling a full line of edibles and other pot products.

"There are hundreds of products on the shelves down here, everything from suppositories to pre-rolled joints ... I think Canadian consumers are looking for those kinds of products," he said. "Currently, the legislation doesn't let Canadian producers produce and sell those products.

"I look at the innovation that's happening in the U.S. and I would say they're five years ahead of us," he said. 

The industry consultant

Taylor Carr works as a London-based independent consultant for people keen to grow their own marijuana for medical use. He provides expertise on both the legal — and horticultural — aspects of home-grown medicinal pot. 

He welcomes the move toward legalization. 

"It's fantastic, it's really going to open the doors for Canada as a leader in cannabis globally," he said.

Carr says the legislation allows Canada to embrace legalization without some of what he sees as the missteps made by other jurisdictions, like Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012. Among the mistakes, Carr says Colorado failed to do a good job of regulating dosage amounts in edibles.

"We've learned from the mistakes they've made, and I think we're going to come out ahead, instead of just being the first. I'm actually glad that we're not the first." 

Carr said many retail dispensaries operating now, will struggle to survive. 

"There's going to be a purge," he said. "If they're not within the laws, they won't be there anymore."

​​The small retailer

Mike McDowell owns the Hippy Co. shop on Adelaide Street. He says the government's main motivation for legalization is profits, not public safety. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Mike McDowell owns Hippy Co., a shop that sells marijuana pipes, seeds, rolling papers and some medicinal products with a legal level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. McDowell says he hasn't sold pot from his store on Adelaide Street since police began to crack down on dispensaries a few years ago. 

He says the move to decriminalize marijuana is "a good thing, it's what we wanted all these years."

But he worries the provincially run retail stores will offer the same products he does.

"If they get into bongs and papers and the whole store with it, that's obviously going to be very bad," he said. "Why come to me instead of a one-stop shop? And that's what they're trying to do: Control the money."

McDowell would rather the government open up the retail market, so small stores like his could legally sell  directly to customers. He gets more than a dozen calls a day from customers asking him for pot. 

"Let us sell it, let us pay our taxes," he said. "The government should not control this industry." 

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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