'Early in the process': Windsor-Essex officials say it's too soon to plan cannabis tourism

The CEO of Windsor-Essex region's tourism not-for-profit says his organization will wait until business owner Kirk Anastasiadis's Windsor cannabis shop is market-ready before helping promote the business. 

'One shop does not a tourist industry make,' says Ward 7 Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk

Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island CEO Gordon Orr says it's too early to build a marketing plan around Windsor's future cannabis retail store. (Jason Viau/CBC)

The CEO of Windsor-Essex region's tourism marketing organization says he's going to wait until Kirk Anastasiadis's Windsor cannabis shop is market-ready before helping promote the business. 

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) announced the results of the province's second cannabis retail store licence lottery Wednesday. Anastasiadis was the only Windsor-Essex applicant to successfully earn the chance to file for a licence. 

Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) said his organization needs to know if Anastasiadis is even interested in being tourism partners before moving forward.

"We don't know what it is that we would have to market," said Orr. "Once you know that, then you've got the answer."

Orr added that his organization typically bundles a collection of experiences together to promote products, "much like our Barrels, Bottles and Brews program or even the EPIC Wineries, where they realize that they're stronger together than they are individually."

According to Orr it's "premature at this juncture" to begin planning cannabis tourism attractions, saying that his organization doesn't market anything "that's about to happen."

"That being said, it's certainly on our radar."

Kirk Anastasiadis, pictured working at London, Ont. burger joint Burger Burger. (Zak Nuttall)

There's no guarantee Kirk Anastasiadis will be successful in his bid to earn a licence to formally open a cannabis retail shop at 545 Ouellette Ave. in downtown Windsor later this year. 

Though Anastasiadis is allowed to apply, it's still up to the AGCO to grant him legal permission to formally open his store. 

Ward 7 Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk — who serves as the vice chair of TWEPI's board of directors — said taking a "wait and see approach" is far more prudent for the city. 

Kusmierczyk cautioned that "one shop does not a tourist industry make" and said he expects administration will eventually bring forward a report to potentially develop a strategy around cannabis tourism.

Windsor Ward 7 Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk says a 'wait and see' approach for cannabis tourism is prudent. (Jason Viau/CBC)

"At this point, it's one shop," said Kusmierczyk. "I imagine down the road, as this develops further, that is a conversation that we'll be having both at council and also at Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island."

Lessons from around the world

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos — who serves as TWEPI's board chair — said he's monitoring the industry to see how other regions are handling cannabis tourism.

Santos was part of a Windsor-Essex delegation that travelled to the Netherlands in June to learn more about the country's agri-tech sector. He said he's already started putting out feelers to see how other areas "utilize these cannabis store fronts as a potential draw" for tourists.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos believes Health Canada regulations could limit how the region will advertise cannabis. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

"We have to find ways to see how this will be able to link up with the other assets within our region, as well as then find what other appropriate markets to really promote for us," said Santos.

Santos added that Heath Canada regulations — as well as municipal regulations that can vary from community to community — could limit how the region advertises cannabis.

Cross-border opportunities 

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald, who was also part of the Windsor-Essex delegation that travelled to the Netherlands in June, said she's already begun to have the tourism conversation. 

MacDonald said she was impressed with Amsterdam's cannabis cafes, adding naive tourists likely wouldn't notice the difference between a regular cafe were they to visit. 

"It's the same as going to a bar where people are having drinks, it was not obvious [or] in your face," said MacDonald, adding that Windsor will likely have an opportunity to capitalize on U.S. residents crossing into Canada for legal cannabis. 

"I think it is definitely something that can be done," said MacDonald. "I think you'll see that in Windsor, particularly with across the border, you'll see those opportunities."

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald says she sees potential for cannabis tourism in Windsor-Essex. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Kusmierczyk said he doesn't expect an initial influx of U.S. cannabis tourists once Windsor's retail store opens. 

"Michigan has legalized both recreational [and] medical cannabis [and] I think that's going to have an impact," said the councillor. 

Kusmierczyk added that the rules surrounding cross-border cannabis consumption could also serve as a deterrent for individuals interested in engaging with cannabis tourism.

"There are certain elements and dynamics that we really have to keep an eye on … as we are developing these policies and these strategies," said Kusmierczyk.

With files from Amy Dodge and Jason Viau


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