The Ontario government has been crystal clear when it comes to its views on marijuana retail. If you want to own a private storefront, you must go elsewhere. But a decision by the Town Council of Smith Falls Ontario has the potential to change that — or at the very least, reignite the conversation surrounding marijuana retail in Canada.
The monopoly mantra is a tune Canada’s largest province has sung since the early days of legalization. But the melody may change ever so slightly with the potential addition of a private store run by Canopy Growth Corporation, the world’s largest marijuana producer.
On Nov. 13, the Town Council, led by Mayor Shawn Pankow, passed a motion to approach the province regarding a Canopy Growth retail outlet. The store would be housed at the main production facility for the marijuana giant, inside the former Hershey’s chocolate factory.
“We sent letters to Minister Sousa, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, and Premier Wynne on Tuesday,” said Mayor Pankow in an interview with Marijuana.com. “Our staff are following up with phone calls to try to arrange a face-to-face meeting, hopefully in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
Pankow added this is the first time the council has attempted to contact anyone at the provincial level, despite the fact that the issue has been a matter of discussion in the municipality for three to four weeks.
Although Pankow can’t be certain whether the province officials will agree, the town of Smiths Falls, himself included, are hopeful they will.
“I think the province has great intentions of trying to do what it can within its own limitations, to ensure that there will be reputable companies able to provide supply through their retail outlets,” Pankow said. “But [the province] also recognizes that [they] are not prepared to be able to meet demand. So, it only makes sense to say, let’s give licensed producers the opportunity to retail from their production facilities if they choose to.”
If Ontario is unreceptive to the idea of private retail outlets run by licensed producers, at the very least, Pankow hopes one of the government stores will occupy the space that would have housed the Canopy retail location.
“If a [government option] is the only direction they are going to go, then at least, perhaps, rent some space from licensed producers like Canopy, that can host one of these stores.”
Although the Town of Smiths Falls is publicly leading the charge when it comes to this initiative, Canopy is fully onboard with the idea.
“What we want to do is float the idea and remind the regulators at the provincial level, that we have a really strong track-record of following the rules and being responsible producers,” said Director of Communications for Canopy Growth Jordan Sinclair, in an interview with Marijuana.com. “We think that could extend to a retail location at our production site in Smiths Falls.”
Sinclair sees this potential opportunity as being similar to when a winery has a store in their main production facilities. “There are many craft-breweries or distilleries around the province where, since they are producing the product there, they can also sell the product there.”
Although the municipality of Smiths Falls is facilitating the request with the province, Canopy has also been lobbying for the same goal.
“We’ve included this request in a number of our consultation documents that have flowed through various levels of government. This is an idea that’s getting a little bit of light because of the resolution that the Town Council passed, but this has long been something we’ve been working towards,” said Sinclair.
Along with Pankow, Sinclair has no idea as to which way the province will go. “That’s really for them to decide. We certainly hope they take a long look at this.”
One of the most vocal opponents to a government-run monopoly has been the activist community, which has taken the stance that marijuana businesses should be a free market that follows government regulations. So the question remains, how do they feel about Canopy potentially getting a storefront?
“It’s always great to see more cannabis businesses gaining support from government, but it’s sad when [they] exclude other people and [potentially] demonstrate a favoritism towards certain connected, well-off organizations,” said famed Canadian cannabis activist Jodie Emery to Marijuana.com. “The smaller entrepreneurs should also have a shot.”
Despite the potential snub for the unlicensed cannabis community, Emery believes that municipalities pushing for more cannabis outlets is a good thing. “I think cities should lobby very hard to have as many cannabis retail outlets as possible. The demand of the citizens require it, [otherwise] they will continue to see local dispensaries open that aren’t regulated. It would be great to allow everyone to have a regulated storefront and in order to do so we need [municipal] governments to support that.”
Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett