What are Kingston’s chances to win the cannabis lottery?
On Jan. 3, the Ontario government released rules for its cannabis retail licence lottery, giving the province an idea of how Ontario’s first legal pot shop locations will be chosen. Now the question is — how does Kingston fit in?
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is running the lottery along with consulting firm KPMG. The commission has delineated five regions across Ontario, with each slated to receive a certain number of licences from the lottery. Kingston falls into the East region, which will receive five licences.
According to regulations set out by the AGCO, the licences will only be granted in cities with populations greater than 50,000.
That means in the East region, only six cities qualify to be approved in the first lottery:
- Ottawa, with a population of 934,243
- Barrie, with a population of 141,434
- Kingston, with a population of 123,798
- Peterborough, with a population of 81,032
- Kawartha Lakes, with a population of 75,423
- Belleville, with a population of 50,716
Only six municipalities in Ontario’s eastern region are large enough to be eligible to win in the government’s cannabis licence lottery.
The AGCO says a lottery system was chosen in order to provide a fair and transparent method to choose potential operators. Since the lottery system uses the same software that puts slot machines through rigorous testing before they hit the casino floor, there’s no way of guaranteeing that Kingston, the second largest city in the East region, will receive one of the five licences.
Owner of head shop 420 Kingston Jennawae McLean is hopeful her application will be chosen, since she’s been renovating a large cannabis retail space for several months she’s named Calex and Trichomes.
For Ontario, plans for recreational pot sales have been interrupted with several changes in policies, a provincial election and supply issues.
It was only in mid-December that the Ontario government announced a cap on the number of cannabis stores allowed to open on April 1, limiting the number to 25, less than the previous Liberal government.
“Now with this temporary cap, it puts a bump on the road, but it’s a temporary bump,” McLean said.
Another bump in the road for McLean is that Kingston city council has yet to decide whether it will allow cannabis retailers within city limits.
The lottery will open Jan. 7, one day before council will vote on a staff recommendation released on Jan. 3 to allow pot shops in the city.
The city of Kingston conducted an online survey to gauge whether Kingstonians wanted pot shops in the city. The results of the survey were overwhelmingly in favour of allowing cannabis retailers in Kingston.
“Our survey showed that the majority of people consuming cannabis would prefer to buy it in stores rather than online,” said Lanie Hurdle, commissioner of community services.
The city of Kingston released data from an online survey launched in December 2018, asking respondents whether they wanted cannabis shops in the city.
McLean said she’s spoken to a number of councillors who say they’ll vote in favour of allowing the cannabis retailers.
“We’ve heard back from five of the councillors that say they for sure are going to be opting in enthusiastically,” said McLean. There are 12 councillors and the mayor’s vote to count on, so it’s possible McLean may be disappointed come the vote at the Jan. 8 council meeting.
Hurdle says the biggest worry is if the city does not opt in that could create a reliance on the black market.
“If the in-store is not available in this city, we’re also concerned those people may reach out to the underground market.”
Hurdle also mentioned the potential benefits of opting in, such as the funding Kingston will receive if council decides to host cannabis retail locations. That funding will go to the health unit and police force for local cannabis education and enforcement.
Interested business owners have from Jan. 7 to Jan. 9 to enter the lottery and they should find out if their bid was successful by the end of the week.
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