Mayor irked by uneven awarding of Ontario cannabis stores

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley is fuming over the Ontario lottery system that has shut out all local applicants hoping to sell cannabis in a legal, private-sector store.

For the second time this year, no Sarnia-Lambton applicants were among the winners picked by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s lottery software program.

Mike Bradley

“It doesn’t make any sense,” says Bradley. “It should really be about where the market is. There should be some discipline to it.

“It just doesn’t seem like much thought went into this.”

Asked why it’s important Sarnia have a store, Bradley noted city council voted 7-2 in December to support a bricks-and-mortar cannabis outlet in the city.

“The product is legal across the country and most of the feedback we’ve been getting on that is positive,” the mayor said.

The federal government said it legalized marijuana 11 months ago to eliminate the illegal market, Bradley added.

“There’s evidence everywhere that this is not the case.”

Sarnia Police and Lambton OPP have made numerous arrests at illegal pot shops, some of which have been operating for years.

Politicians who supported legalization said they hoped the black market would disappear. The rationale is government-approved pot is safer and reduces crime.

But even the online store selling government-approved cannabis has drawbacks, Bradley said.

“I’m told by many people they don’t trust providing their personal information online. They don’t want the government or hackers to have their information,” he said.

“I hear all the time that they are worried the U.S. border control will get it.”

And the local cannabis shutout is another example of Toronto ignoring this area of the province, he added.

Five applicants in the City of London and one in Windsor were approved to get licences following the Aug. 20 lottery. Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent have zero approved applicants.

“Pardon the pun, but this has been rolled out badly,” Bradley said.  “Where’s the business case? Sarnia is a major market and people in this area have a right to be treated fairly.”

In particular, he wonders why the process requires applicants to prove they have secured retail space before submitting their name. Applicants must also prove they can obtain $250,000 to operate a store.

Once selected in the lottery, applicants must re-apply for a licence.

The AGCO’s lottery software program selected three winning applicants located on the same street in the small city of Innisfil, said Bradley.

“No private retail company would locate three stores in a small market like that and leave our market without any,” he said. “This has got to change.”

The August lottery did select one applicant from Sarnia for the waiting list.

The AGCO’s website notes Patrick Small, at 142 Lochiel St., is the second of five on the wait list. He could potentially be selected to apply for a licence if two others originally chosen in the lottery are disqualified.

It’s not known if or when a third lottery will be held.

TIMELINE:

October 2018 – Ontario legalizes the sale of cannabis and makes it available online.

December 2018 – Sarnia city council votes 7-2 to allow private cannabis shops. Point Edward and St. Clair councils vote against pot shops, along with 77 of 414 municipalities in Ontario.

January 2019 – Ontario holds its first lottery for 25 licences.  London gets three. Sarnia gets none.

August 2019 – Ontario holds its second lottery for 50 more licences, including eight for First Nations.  London gets two more, Windsor gets one. Sarnia gets none.