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'Historic moment': At least one cannabis retail store opens today in Toronto

Hunny Gawri is shown outside his storefront in a recent file photo. The shop opens today.
Hunny Gawri is shown outside his storefront in a recent file photo. The Toronto shop opens today. - Postmedia News Service

There’s a money pot waiting at the Hunny Pot — emphasis on pot.

So naturally owner and Mississauga realtor Hunny Gawri is excited his Hunny Pot Cannabis Co., located at 202 Queen St. W. in Toronto, passed its final inspection and will open its doors today to sell recreational cannabis.

April 1 is the earliest day 25 applicants who won the provincial lottery back on Jan. 9 to operate bricks-and-mortar cannabis retail stores can welcome customers in Ontario, which until now has only offered sales online via the OCS website.

“Cannabis was on the horizon and I definitely wanted to be a part of it,” said Gawri, standing outside his 3,500-square-foot store earlier last week. “I’ve always been a part of new emerging markets so whether it was tech or real estate (previously).”

Of the 25 stores in Ontario, five are set to be in Toronto proper.

There was a lengthy process following the lottery, including a 15-day public notice on each proposed cannabis store space before a Retail Operator Licence (ROL) and Retail Store Authorization (RSA) is issued by the province followed by a pre-opening store inspection — sometimes several if anything is found to be wrong — before you can put your shingle out.

“There is no disqualification for not opening April 1,” said Raymond Kahnert, a spokesman for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

However, applicants for the cannabis retail stores did put up an initial $6,000 fee and a $50,000 letter of credit.

“If you’re not open on April 1, the first draw (from that letter of credit) happens of $12,500,” said Kahnert. “Having said that the registrar of the AGCO has the discretion to review the circumstances under which the doors are not open.”

As it stands, the Hunny Pot is the first retail cannabis store in Toronto to jump through all the necessary hoops.

The AGCO has promised to put up an interactive website by around 6 p.m. Sunday showing which Ontario stores will actually be operational today.

“It’s definitely been a challenge,” said Gawri. “I knew I had to build a great team, and it was all about hitting April 1. It’s definitely a shorter period than normal (to open a store of this kind) but it’s been amazing. The AGCO, the OCS, everyone’s been very open with communication.”

Gawri says the Hunny Pot will offer customers knowledgable “budtenders,” a beautiful, four-floor space with skylights, and what he calls “responsible retailing.”

“Being one of the first we want to pave the way and make sure everything is done properly,” he said. “If we have two people, if we have 10,000 people (today), we want to be prepared.”

He said the store will have cannabis flower, pre-rolled joints, oils, soft gels and accessories.

Of the four other Toronto stores, Ameri, located at 20 Cumberland St., had been issued both a ROL and RSA but the owner refused to say if they would be open by April 1.

Meanwhile, Nova Cannabis, at 499 Queen St. W., was still waiting for its paperwork to be processed and a spokesperson confirmed Friday it won’t make the April 1 opening.

Tokyo Smoke at 333 Yonge St, the sight of the former HMV, and Canna Cabana at 435(B) Yonge St, weren’t ending their 15-day public notices until April 2 and 9, respectively, so logic says they can’t be opening April 1.

One loophole for the other Toronto stores, said Kahnert, “there is nothing in the legislation to prohibit opening and selling non-cannabis accessories.”

Otherwise, Kahnert said if operators are not open by April 15, another $12,500 is drawn, followed by the remaining $25,000 if they’re still closed by April 30.

Once everyone in Ontario is open, he says “the AGCO will still be monitoring, will still be dealing with the operators to ensure that they’re in adherence to all the governing laws and regulations.”

“It’s a historic moment for the industry as a whole, even to be one of 25 was amazing,” said Gawri. “If we’re the only ones (open) in Toronto on (April 1), that would be monumental for us for sure. ”


Cannabis supply seems to be an ongoing issue for retailers in other provinces, so what can we expect in Ontario once all 25 stores are up and running?

We asked Toronto cannabis expert Lisa Campbell, founder-CEO of the year-old Lifford Cannabis Solutions which provides sales and marketing to licensed cannabis producers to get their product to retail across Canada, to explain why there has been supply issues:

“There’s a huge bottleneck in terms of the supply chain in certain areas,” said Campbell. “For example, Health Canada has said that licensed producers do have inventories of cannabis even though it’s not getting onto the shelves. A lot of licensed producers weren’t anticipating the demand of recreational so they don’t necessarily have automated packaging yet.”

“Certain licensed producers are still waiting on their processing licence to be able to have more space for packaging, so that has been an issue,” she said. “Also, licensed producers can’t ship directly to retailers, so it has to go to the government warehouse first and then the orders have to be prepared to go out to stores.”

“Because this is just the first few months of legalization, they’re still ironing out the kinks before things can fully flesh out. We’ve seen in other markets similar problems. It’s not unique to Canada.”

— Jane Stevenson

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