No pri­vate pot sales by Day 1: lawyer

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If On­tario changes course to al­low pri­vately-run pot shops, they won’t be ready to open on Day 1, pre­dicts cannabis le­gal ex­pert Trina Fraser.“No chance,” said Fraser, an Ot­tawa lawyer who ad­vises the cannabis in­dus­try.Recre­ational pot will be le­gal across Canada on Oct. 17.Un­til a few days ago, On­tar­i­ans were ex­pect­ing to buy their first le­gal bud at gov­ern­ment out­lets run by a sub­sidiary of the LCBO. But there has been wide­spread spec­u­la­tion — fu­elled by un­named gov­ern­ment sources — that Doug Ford’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives will in­stead opt for pri­vately run stores. Fraser joins many in the cannabis in­dus­try who wel­come the idea, but she ticks off a daunt­ing list of things that would have to be done to make it hap­pen.The gov­ern­ment would have to amend the cannabis leg­is­la­tion passed by the for­mer Lib­eral gov­ern­ment and cre­ate a frame­work for li­cens­ing pri­vate stores, she said. “And be­hind the reg­u­la­tions there have to be pro­cesses and poli­cies and an ac­tual de­part­ment set up with peo­ple to be able to pro­cess those ap­pli­ca­tions and in­spect premises and grant li­cences. There’s quite a bit too it.”Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties would also prob­a­bly have to pass zon­ing by­laws to con­trol where stores can be lo­cated, she said.Stores would have to be leased or built, shelves filled and staff hired. “We are just over two months away,” she said. “There’s no chance.”As the clock ticks and spec­u­la­tion mounts — in­dus­try in­sid­ers were pre­dict­ing an an­nounce­ment would be made last week — Fraser said it would be help­ful if the On­tario gov­ern­ment made its plans known.“I have no idea where they are with all this. Is this (pri­vate stores) just a con­cept in prin­ci­ple, or have they de­cided upon it at some point or have they ac­tu­ally started?”An­other in­dus­try in­sider, Deepak Anand of the con­sult­ing firm Cannabis Com­pli­ance, said he is con­fi­dent the gov­ern­ment will make the switch to pri­vate stores, based on his sources. Anand, who ad­vises the in­dus­try on cannabis reg­u­la­tions, was the one who started the spec­u­la­tion with a post on Twit­ter.Anand agreed it would be a scram­ble, say­ing that “po­ten­tially there could be a few stores ready” by Oct. 17. How­ever, the roll­out of stores will be a grad­ual pro­cess across Canada any­way, he said.On­tario had planned to open only 40 gov­ern­ment-run stores in 2018, in­creas­ing to 150 stores by 2020. Some other prov­inces aren’t much fur­ther ahead.“Peo­ple seem to think that On­tario is in the Stone Age. But B.C. hasn’t even opened the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cess for pri­vate stores yet.”Anand said On­tario has the chance to learn from the prov­inces that are al­low­ing pri­vate pot stores: Al­berta, Saskatchewan, Man­i­toba and New­found­land. B.C. will have a mix of gov­ern­ment-run out­lets and pri­vate stores.Those ju­ris­dic­tions have dealt with key is­sues dif­fer­ently.Al­berta and B.C., for ex­am­ple, have lim­ited the num­ber of li­cences that can be awarded to any one com­pany in an ef­fort to pre­vent mo­nop­o­lies that would shut out smaller en­trepreneurs.Bri­tish Columbia has left the door open for il­le­gal dis­pen­saries to con­vert to le­gal stores. Al­berta has banned those in­volved in the il­licit mar­ket from get­ting a li­cence.One thing is cer­tain: There would be no lack of in­ter­est in op­er­at­ing pri­vate pot shops. That’s clear from what’s hap­pened in the west­ern prov­inces.In Saskatchewan, the prov­ince held a lot­tery to award the cov­eted store li­cences.In Cal­gary, a city about the size of Ot­tawa, mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials are sift­ing through 261 ap­pli­ca­tions for store li­cences. Com­pe­ti­tion is so fierce in that prov­ince that one Ed­mon­ton-based com­pany, Fire & Flower, leased 37 lo­ca­tions in a cal­cu­lated gam­ble it would gain li­cences.The ap­pli­ca­tions are in var­i­ous stages of ap­proval, said com­pany chief ex­ec­u­tive Trevor Fen­cott. Fire & Flower would like to run stores in On­tario, he said. “Our aim is to be in ev­ery prov­ince where pri­vate re­tail is al­lowed.”Gatineau cannabis grower Hy­dropothe­cary, which is chang­ing its name to HEXO, bought a stake in Fire & Flower last month to gain a foothold in the re­tail sec­tor.Two other Ot­tawa-area com­pa­nies are well placed to get stores up and run­ning. Canopy Growth Corp. of Smiths Falls has al­ready won ap­proval to op­er­ate stores in Saskatchewan, New­found­land and Man­i­toba. Canopy CEO Bruce Lin­ton has said his com­pany could ramp up quickly to open stores in On­tario.Na­tional Ac­cess Cannabis of Ot­tawa is open­ing stores in West­ern Canada un­der its Meta brand, some of them in old Sec­ond Cup out­lets. That com­pany also has ex­pan­sion plans.Fraser calls the in­ter­est “mas­sive.”“I’ve had about a hun­dred calls from peo­ple, say­ing, ‘Can you help me get a re­tail li­cence?’ ”

Na­tional Ac­cess Cannabis of Ot­tawa is open­ing stores in West­ern Canada un­der its Meta brand.

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