Last month, the Ontario government released its proposed framework for distributing marijuana in Ontario, once marijuana is legalized. Rather than legitimize illegal private storefront dispensaries, which have proliferated in Toronto over the past two years, Queen’s Park has decided to create a government-run pot retail chain. The plan calls for the LCBO to be in charge of all of Ontario’s weed sales, starting with 40 standalone stores in July. The legal age for buying marijuana would be 19. As for private dispensaries? Queen’s Park says they “are not and will not be legal retailers.” In an attempt to find out how private cannabis entrepreneurs are absorbing the news, and what they’re planning to do next, we spoke with a few of them. Here’s what they said:

Clinton Younge

CEO of MMJ Canada, a chain of dispensaries

What was your reaction to the province’s proposal to sell marijuana in government-run stores?
I was disappointed but I was not surprised. Everyone would have been foolish to think that the government was going to come out with regulations that were very loose.

What are some changes you would make?
I would love to be a licensed retailer. I would love to follow a government regime. I’m already paying taxes. I would like to see a craft model for dispensaries. I would like to see an organization that governs it.

What do you think about the 19-or-older age restriction?
I agree with it. Your brain is not fully developed as a teenager.

What percentage of cannabis users do you think will avoid government marijuana completely?
At first, when the Cannabis Control Board of Ontario gets created, people are gonna go there. They’re gonna go, “Whoa, this is neat!” If the government keeps up with quality, and sets fair market prices, they may see a fair percentage go. If they don’t allow a craft market, though, you may get more people who are upset, who go to the black market. Cannabis people want to know the breakdown, they want to know the bud structure, they want to know the strain specifics, they want to know the type of high, the smell, the taste, and how it feels. And they want to be able to look at it. That might become an issue if it becomes extremely corporate.

Is it possible the province is starting conservatively with its regulatory model and we might see changes?
I think they’ll start introducing things as the pressure comes on, as the constitutional challenges happen. There are going to be Charter challenges. I don’t believe everything people say about Kathleen Wynne is true. I think she is going to make some moves that are going to benefit small businesspeople. It doesn’t seem that way now, but I’m being positive and hopeful.

Things are about to get difficult for you, legally. What are your plans for the future?
We’ve gotta prepare for the bumpy road ahead. I just left city hall. I explained why not including the private model with the public model could be harmful. I believe I’ve structured my company well enough that we could last in one way or another.

Do you have any changes planned for your company?
We’re going to be patient. We don’t want to make an emotional decision. We’re going to hold off for the next little while. We’ve been meeting with licensed producers, doing gatherings with dispensaries. We’re hearing out the whole industry.

Will you maintain your Toronto locations for the time being?
Yes. Because we’re medicinal, I believe we’re going to come to this on a Charter challenge or a constitutional challenge.

Abi “Roach” (not her real last name)

Owner of the Hotbox, a Cannabis lounge in Kensington Market, and director of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association

What was your reaction to the province’s proposal to sell marijuana in government-run stores?
Shocked but not shocked. Shocked because it hits you and it’s like someone shot your dog—these people are completely unreasonable, they have no clue what they’re doing. But not shocked, because this is the Ontario Liberals, and this is how they run the province.

What are some changes you would make to Queen’s Park’s marijuana sales framework?
First off, I would allow private retail. That creates more jobs, it fills in more empty spaces, it puts more money in the pockets of people, more money in the pockets of small business. It creates a level playing field which creates a better marketplace for the consumer.

What do you think about the 19-or-older age restriction?
I’m fine with that. We don’t want to encourage kids to be smoking anything.

What percentage of cannabis users do you think will avoid government marijuana completely?
A lot. Anyone who smokes more than a joint a week. Maybe someone like my father who, every 10 years, has a puff with his friends, will really enjoy going to the Cannabis Control Board of Ontario and the comfort of it. It’s great for the casual consumer, but for the real cannabis consumer, they want to see what they’re buying, they want to smell what they’re buying, they want to know that the person in front of them understands what they’re talking about.

Will there be any new customers?
Of course, but then they realize that there’s a whole world outside this CCBO model. Once they find a new dealer, it’s done. They’re never going to go back. Why would they?

Things are about to get difficult for you, legally speaking. What are your plans for the future?
I’ve been riding the grey line of the law for a very, very long time. And my theory is, just go with it. They give you an inch, you take an inch and a half. I will never take a foot. But I won’t go backwards. If they want to close down cannabis lounges, they’re gonna find out pretty soon that they’re gonna have to re-open them. I have a big storefront, I have great a clientele, I’m awesome at retail. Our online store’s launching next week. I have retail partnerships. There’s a whole slew of things that I could be doing. Or I could just pack up my stuff and go to my house in Jamaica and do everything legally. I have options.

You have a house in Jamaica?
We have a “bud and breakfast” in Jamaica. We get cannabis consumers from all over the world.

Would you really close down the business here and do that full time?
Oh yeah, I love Jamaica. But I’m such an entrepreneur and my brain is a going million miles an hour. I love being there for two months at a time. But it’s island time. I go a little bonkers; I’m a city slicker.

Jamie McConnell

Owner of Sea of Green, a Toronto dispensary

What was your reaction to the province’s proposal to sell marijuana in government-run stores?
I expect the worst from Kathleen Wynne. It just won’t work. People don’t know what they want. They need to be educated, and I don’t know where the province plans to get the educated staff on pot. All the educated staff are like me: we’ve been charged, so we have criminal records and won’t be allowed to work for them. They won’t have the knowledgable staff, they won’t have the product for the people to see, they won’t have the descriptions to tell them what they’re getting. People will just give up and walk out, or they’ll get something they don’t want and not like it.

What are some changes you would make?
They need to allow storefront dispensaries. It’s what the consumer wants; it’s all that’s gonna work.

Why do you think the province is reluctant to open up the market?
Because they didn’t talk to the right stakeholders. They talked to the police, they talked to all these different agencies. We were excluded from the conversation, and any little amount we were allowed to speak was discarded.

What do you think about the 19-or-older age restriction?
I don’t mind 19. My store’s 18-plus.

Things are about to get tough for you, legally. What are your plans for the future?
It has always been tough legally. The risk of a raid has always been there. As an activist, I think this new legislation sucks. But as a businessperson, it’s great for my business. I’ll have bud that’s better—cheaper, probably—with knowledgeable people. More importantly, I’ll carry the other 50 per cent, 60 per cent of the business: the concentrates, the edibles, the tinctures, the creams. I’ll just open up beside the government-run stores and sell all the things they’re not going to sell. They can’t win this war. It’s impossible. I will go until I’m in jail.

What would you do if you were raided?
I went through three raids, and after every raid I just opened up the next day. You have to plan for a raid, you have to expect a raid. It has to be part of your business model.

How do you plan for a raid?
A raid will just take my product, take my money, take the electronics. If I have enough product off-site or money off-site, then I just bring back more, refill the jars and start over again the next day.

So the only thing that would stop you would be prison?
It might not stop my store. It’d stop me personally. But I’m not just gonna quit because the government says it’s theirs.

Rick Vrecic

Owner-operator of True Compassion Consulting, a Mississauga-based medical marijuana consultancy

What was your reaction to the province’s proposal to sell marijuana in government-run stores?
It’s pretty well the worst system you can possibly imagine.

What are some changes you would make?
I’d allow independent businesses to get in the system instead of making it another government-run monopoly. The LCBO model, it may have worked for a time, but this is 2017.

What do you think about the 19-or-older age restriction?
It’s kinda ass-backwards. A 16-year-old can drive a car, which is like a guided missile. You can send these kids to war at 18. But they’re not allowed to smoke pot? Eighteen seems reasonable to me.

Why do you think the province is reluctant to open up the market?
You want to get into conspiracy theories? If you look at the boards of licensed producers, they are literally littered with Liberal insiders and elites.

How many storefronts do you think Toronto needs?
Before the Project Claudia dispensary raids in May, there were close to 200 dispensaries in Toronto, and 195 were thriving. If Toronto could support 195, I don’t understand how Ontario is going to start off with 40. They’re going to be doing online sales, which will help for rural communities. But the cannabis community wants to come in and inspect the product. It’s also a very social thing. People want to talk to the budtender.

Is it possible the province is starting conservatively with its regulatory model and we might see changes?
History shows that when something starts, things very quickly get entrenched. That seems to be the government way.

Things are about to get difficult, legally speaking, for cannabis entrepreneurs. 
Things have been legally difficult since Project Claudia.

So what are your plans for the future?
My plan for the near future is to focus on edibles. It seems to be the one aspect that’s not being addressed at all, and it’s my main form of medicine. I’m absolutely livid that there’s no provision for edibles in the legislation.

Do you feel like you’re taking a risk by focusing on edibles?
Those of us in the industry, we have a saying: We’d rather be illegally alive than legally dead.

Can you explain that?
If I was still taking the opiates and stuff that I was prescribed, seven, eight years ago, I’d be a dead man. Instead I’m taking edibles, and that’s all I’m taking for my pain, and I’m alive.

Justin Loizos

Owner of Just+Compassion, a medical cannabis club, and the director of the Cannabis Rights Coalition

What was your reaction to the province’s proposal to sell marijuana in government-run stores?
I wasn’t surprised. I’d been aware of this for months.

Were you surprised by anything in Queen’s Park’s proposed framework?
Surprised? No. There’s a few things that put me off. It’s setting up a monopoly. That’s the biggest problem. I commend the government for going through with it, though. Forty stores isn’t going to be enough.

What do you think about the 19-or-older age restriction?
I think it’s fair. I smoked—Yeah, I think it’s fair.

What were you about to say?
I started smoking as a teen, and I probably could’ve done better without it, but I think I was self-medicating for some sort of anxiety at the time. And I would imagine that most people who smoke more than just recreationally, they have some kind of anxiety, or maybe an issue that they haven’t diagnosed.

You’ve found it has improved your life? 
As a teenager, I felt it help me cope. I had learning disabilities, so that helped me a lot. I never had to take any pharmaceuticals. I stopped smoking cannabis as I got into the workforce. In 2012, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I decided to use cannabis at that point. In 2013 I was in a wheelchair that I was told I’d never be out of. And they signed me up for chemotherapy. At that point, I started to mega-dose cannabis. I got a pound and I mixed it into coconut oil. Within three days, my toe started to move. Three weeks later, I was using a walker.

Is it possible the province is starting conservatively with its regulatory model and we might see changes?
Definitely. I’ve been saying this for awhile: It’s going to take five years before we even know what legalization looks like. It’s going to take this court challenge, that court challenge. It’s going to be interesting.

What are your plans for the future?
I’ve been planning this for awhile now, turning my club into a cooperative. We’ll all grow for each other and take care of each other. It will be more focused on people who use cannabis as a life force. I need an ounce a day, every day. I run my dispensary not to pay myself, but to afford this medicine. Since I’ve owned this dispensary, it’s been the longest I’ve stayed out of the hospital for an emergency steroid infusion.

When will you have the co-op up and running?
Definitely by legalization time.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

Article is written by Toronto Life

About The Author

Richard T
Creative Director

I've seen some shit. I'd like to talk about it, so people don't get so damn high and fall into a river.

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