Clash with provincial pot outlets concerns head shops 

OCS to sell paraphernalia while marketing it alongside regulated pot could jeopardize the financial stability of Ontarian head shops or outlaw them entirely.

Sebastian Bron | The Kingston Whig Standard

On the corner of Princess and Smith streets, in the back room of her co-owned cannabis accessory store, 420 Kingston, Jennawae McLean sits with her hands clasped and is noticeably concerned.

“We have to outsell the government,” she explains, “which is almost as ridiculous as a David versus Goliath scenario.”

McLean, who founded 420 Kingston with Lorenzo Cavion in 2010, is one of many in the city’s domestic pot community with reservations about the federal government’s impending legalization of marijuana. Cannabis will be sold in Ontario through the recently established LCBO sub-chain, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).

According to the OCS website, available products within provincially mandated stores will include both marijuana and marijuana-related accessories. The province has identified four Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) locations, one of which, much to McLean’s worry, will be just over six kilometres from 420 Kingston, at 770 Gardiners Rd.

McLean said potential for OCS to sell paraphernalia while marketing it alongside regulated pot could jeopardize the financial stability of Ontarian head shops” or outlaw them entirely.

“One hundred per cent it’s going to affect business; It’s just a matter of [the government] deciding to legislate against us entirely.”

There, too, are questions about the necessity for accessories in OCS stores. “It’s not like the LCBO sells fancy cork screws or fancy glasses, and this is the same thing,” McLean said.

The pot accessory industry is thriving, she added, but regulation of the drug puts provincial officials in the driver’s seat.

“They’re choosing where the industry is going to be,” she said, alluding to the OCS in Kingston’s RioCan Centre on Gardiners Road. “Our customer service has to compel people to go out of their way and come to our store even after they buy weed.”

While McLean welcomes the legalization of marijuana, the regulation of its conjoining accessories is troubling” particularly when considering the niche head shops have carved in their respective markets.

“We’ve always done well.  The dogs [her Great Danes Quincy and Harold, who often greet the customers] have always been fed and the staff always pay their rent,” McLean said with a laugh.

Ryan Mallough, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Federation for Independent Business (CFIB), shares similar concerns with McLean. He said the uneasiness some head shop owners feel regarding cannabis regulation isn’t uncommon” and shouldn’t be.

“It is our position that the government exit the accessories business immediately,” Mallough said in a telephone interview. He added that a public-backed monopoly should not infringe on an already established and legitimate market.

CFIB takes considerable issue with the “unfair” nature that head shop owners will likely have to experience by way of legalization. “As a business owner, [I] would see the government taking my tax dollars and using them against me, or using them to compete with me,” Mallough said.

When reached for comment, Bill Stewart, an advocacy and policy development specialist for Kingston’s Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has yet to hear any concerns from local businesses about the coming pot legalization.

Stewart said “it’s completely understandable” for head shops to be unsettled, and he urged those who worry for their store’s future to contact the chamber.

For McLean, though, what has proved most troubling has been the apparent lack of transparency from federal and provincial government levels.

“There was no public consultation for any of it,” she said about the planned regulation for cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia.

“They’re just going with a broad stroke and doing whatever they want.”

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