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Hamilton’s first legal pot shop poised to open at Centre on Barton

Posted: March 14, 2019

The hopeful operator of a legal marijuana retail outlet is poised to open in an east Hamilton shopping plaza.

Canna Cabana Hamilton has reached the 15-day public comment period to open a government-approved pot shop at the Centre on Barton.

Its roughly 2,400-square-foot space at the east side of the plaza is undergoing renovations to be ready for the province’s deadline.

“I’m working diligently to meet the April 1 deadline,” business owner Steven Fry said Monday morning.

The provincial government aims to have Ontario’s first legal cannabis retailers open for business by April. It’s limited the number to 25 initially, citing a short supply of legal weed.

Fry was meeting with representatives of Canna Cabana in Calgary when he spoke briefly with The Spectator.

Another Canna Cabana outlet to be run by different operators is awaiting a government licence to open a shop in Sudbury.

Fry declined to immediately speak at length about his budding Hamilton outlet but noted he’s a McMaster University business graduate who worked at Hamilton Health Sciences in procurement.

So far, no other aspiring Hamilton operators are listed on the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s website with pending authorizations.

Hamilton is part of the AGCO’s West Region, which the government has capped at seven retail outlets.

The Niagara Herbalist in St. Catharines and Central Cannabis in London already have two of those licences. Two other aspiring operators are listed as being on their way to opening outlets in London, as is another in Niagara Falls.

Should all receive their licences, the prospect of another legal outlet in Hamilton, apart from Fry’s, is limited to one.

That’s not nearly enough to meet the demand, says industry consultant Olivia Brown.

“Oh, of course not,” she said.

However, she’d prefer a legal outlet over the black market even if it means standing in line.

“I’ll be there with a tent. I don’t care. This is big,” said Brown, who owns Professional Cannabis Consulting.

Brown said she expects Canna Cabana Hamilton will do a brisk business when it opens.

“It’s going to be clean, bright and professional, and it’s going to run out of weed in the first week.”

Provincial regulations stipulate that cannabis stores can’t be located within 150 metres of a school and must abide by existing commercial mixed-use zoning rules.

The public comment period for Fry’s application ends March 23 at midnight. The AGCO will then provide the applicant with copies of the submissions, after which he’ll have five days to respond.

But there are other steps to take before a shop can open, including a site inspection and a $50,000 letter of credit, AGCO spokesperson Ray Kahnert noted in an email Monday.

Coun. Sam Merulla, who represents Ward 4, said he’s “very supportive” of Fry’s chosen address. “It makes a great deal of sense. It’s very discreet.”

In fact, the previous provincial government had scoped out the locale for a legal outlet, he noted.

Merulla commended Fry for contacting him to discuss the outlet. “I applaud their efforts. I think that’s a good step.”

The former addictions counsellor has expressed concern about the proliferation of illegal pot shops in Hamilton.

Police ramped up efforts to shut down remaining rogue storefronts after recreational pot became legal across Canada last Oct. 17.

At one point, more than 80 operated in Hamilton, but last week, police said they had cut the number down to 14.

However, police are also contending with black-market “pop-up” sales locations that open for only a day or a few hours.

Brown predicted the black market will continue to exist for years until the supply-and-demand problem is sorted out.

“It’s not going away,” she said.

But for many, buying at illegal outlets, where there’s an absence of professional protocols, is less than ideal, Brown said.

“The employees are sketchy. There’s no regulation. There’s nothing. A fire could happen; a robbery could happen.”

On Saturday night, a man was shot during a heist at an illegal dispensary on King Street East near Ferguson Avenue South.

If all goes well, Canna Cabana will be neighbours with a paint shop, hair salon and fast-food restaurants at Centre on Barton.

The cannabis outlet will also be within a stone’s throw of The Beer Store, LCBO, Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire and Walmart in the 30-hectare plaza managed by Triovest.

In Burlington, RELM Cannabis Co. is awaiting its licence for a legal shop in a Fairview Street commercial plaza.

As for shops meeting the April 1 deadline, Kahnert said that’s difficult to predict, noting “every one of the 25 applicants is moving through the process at their own pace and are currently at different stages.”

“And the AGCO will only license operators and authorize stores once we are satisfied they have met all legal and regulatory requirements.”

tmoro@thespec.com

905-526-3264 | @TeviahMoro

tmoro@thespec.com

905-526-3264 | @TeviahMoro