Pubdate: Sat, 09 Sep 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: 3


At the jam-packed Cannabis Culture store on Bank Street, staffer Ming
Saad says she's not concerned about the provincial government's threat
to shut down illegal marijuana stores.

"We're not going to go down without a fight, and I hope the other
dispensaries won't, either," she said cheerfully on Friday, shortly
after the provincial government announced it will open 150 cannabis
stores run by the LCBO by 2020.

The illegal shops like Cannabis Culture that have sprouted across the
province, especially in Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton, were shut out of
the provincial plan. There won't be any independently owned stores.
The government also promised to close the illegal shops.

"If you operate one of these facilities, consider yourself on notice,"
said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.

"I'm not scared," said Saad. Cannabis Culture was raided by Ottawa
police shortly after it opened last winter and staff were charged with
drug trafficking. The store opened a few days later. As far as she
knows, Cannabis Culture will remain open indefinitely, said Saad.

The store is part of a brand created by pot activists Jodie and Marc
Emery, who had to bow out of the business after they were charged with
drug trafficking.

The Ottawa store is owned by a franchise holder who doesn't want to be

But at Cannabis Culture HQ in Vancouver, chief of operations Jeremiah
Vandermeer tweeted that government stores are an "attempted cultural
appropriation of our cannabis community by corporations &

Dispensaries fill a need, said Saad. She doubts if government-licensed
cannabis growers will be able to supply enough pot when recreational
marijuana is legalized in July 2018, an assessment shared by industry

Cannabis Culture serves about 1,000 to 1,200 customers a day, said
Saad. They include recreational smokers as well as people who use
cannabis for a medical problem or to wean themselves off harder drugs,
she said.

"We don't just have stoners coming into the store."

Saad uses marijuana herself to control anxiety and

The LCBO was chosen to control the distribution and sale of marijuana
because it has a proven track record, expertise and operational
abilities, said Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

The cannabis stores will be stand-alone. They won't resemble most LCBO
outlets. Cannabis will be kept behind a counter and dispensed by a
clerk, similar to the way cigarettes are sold.

Several customers at Cannabis Culture said they didn't much care where
cannabis was sold as long as it's available and not too expensive.

Customer Ryan Gass, 32, says price is his top priority, followed by

"If (government stores) had the exact same weed as here and it's the
same price, I don't care. I'm more or less looking for a deal. Ninety
per cent of the time I'm shopping on the street." Street dealers
usually charge him $10 a gram, but he paid $15 a gram at Cannabis
Culture. "They're making money hand over fist," he says. "They say
they are here for the people. No, you're here to line your pockets."

Customer Stephen Hope, 50, said a cannabis store run by the government
is a "terrible idea."

"It will be terrible quality, overpriced," he predicts. "Those people
have no idea what they are doing."

Independently run stores are more likely to have expertise and "stand
by what they're selling," he said.

It will be hard for the government to control the black market, he
said. "Everybody is ignoring all the cannabis control regulations now,
anyway," he said, gesturing to the dozen people in the waiting room.

It's difficult to predict what will happen to the city's other illegal
shops when cannabis is sold at stores run by the LCBO. Ottawa has
about 19 dispensaries. At most, staff refuse to identify themselves
and either don't know or won't reveal the managers and owners.

"I can't comment or I'll be fired," said a staffer at a Greentree
dispensary on Preston Street, where customers were lined up out the
door. "I'll have to ask you to leave the store."

On a side street adjoining the store, a middle-aged woman was taking
photographs of a line of cars parked illegally all the way down the

She'll send the photos to her councillor to complain - again, said the
woman. The shop, which opened last summer, has brought illegal parkers
that sometimes block her driveway, trash, noise and crime, she said.
Her car has been broken into twice, so she now leaves the door open.
She finds empty Ziploc baggies in her driveway and has arrived home to
find people sitting on her porch smoking pot.

Yesterday she called the police to report a man she saw stroll out of
the shop, hop into his illegally parked car, light up and drive away.

"I mean really," she said. "Come on, can't you at least get yourself
home before you light up?"

The woman said she has nothing against pot smokers. But legalization -
and some controls on the shops - can't come soon enough, and the LCBO
will probably be able to institute some control.

In the meantime, she hopes the government acts on its threat to close
the illegal shops.

"I don't like crime money right next to my home. It's really

She didn't want to give her name, saying she fears being targeted by
owners of the shop.

Ottawa police have conducted multiple raids on pot shops over the last
year, but many simply reopen.

Once legal cannabis stores open, consumers will have "an alternative
source of supply," Sousa said at a news conference. He suggested some
legal stores will deliberately be set up near illegal shops to compete.

The province will work with municipalities to determine the location
of legal stores, including such factors as proximity to schools.

The province said 40 cannabis stores will be open by July 2018, the
date the federal government has promised that recreational marijuana
will be legal. By the end of 2018, there should be 80 stores, with
about 150 stand-alone stores by 2020.

In comparison, the LCBO has more than 650 retail stores and more than
210 agency stores, which are private groceries and convenience stores
that have licences to sell alcohol.

How quickly stores open depends partly on the pot supply, which will
come from producers licensed by Health Canada. Legal growers that now
supply medical marijuana patients are ramping up their production, and
Health Canada has sped up the approval of new licences. It's still
unclear, though, if there will be enough pot produced to meet demand
not only in Ontario, but across the country.

Ontario's cannabis stores will initially sell dried weed and oil,
because those are the products the federal government has decided will
be available first. The federal government has promised that edible
cannabis products will be regulated later.

The popular edible products, from brownies to gummy bears, are now
widely available illegally at pot shops and online.

Cannabis store staff will be trained to ensure they have "knowledge of
the individual products and public health information about how to use
cannabis responsibly," according to a government release.

The province will work with municipalities to determine the location
of stores, including such factors as proximity to schools.
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