By Mike Anderson

The House of Cannabis, which bills itself as Ontario’s finest weed dispensary, will be Keswick’s first licensed pot shop. But it may be months before you can pay a visit to sample its selection of flowers, edibles and CBD oils.

Although the 15-day public notice period – which allows residents to submit their objections online – expired on June 30, President and CEO Benjamin Tran says the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) still hasn’t given it’s final OK.

“We don’t know when we are going to be opening yet,” said Tran, whose Toronto-based company plans to open six locations across Ontario in 2021.

“We are working with the AGCO to make sure our pre-inspection and public notice are complete. And after that, we’ll be put in a queue. They have accelerated the application process. But, I think there’s still a lot of applications pending.”

Tran’s best guesstimate is about three to four months before he can open the doors.

In the meantime, Tran isn’t letting the grass grow under his feet.

His company is busy renovating Unit 9 at the Georgina Mall, located at Church St. and Woodbine Ave.

His goal is to create 900 square feet of “leading-edge” cannabis retail space.

“Right now, we are working with our design team and our construction team to make the space more customer-focused and guide them through the customer journey,” he said.

“We want want to make sure that we offer an environment where someone can discover cannabis safely, but also offer alternatives to the traditional pre-rolls or flowers. So we’re investing heavily in our product mix with CBD and bath bombs and stuff like that that traditional people don’t think about.”

Tran also plans to place a lot of emphasis on staff training and customer education.

“We are very focused on making sure that our staff are educated on the product as well as the rules and regulations associated with cannabis. So we’re building strong relationships with the people and companies that grow the cannabis and manufacture the cannabis products, making sure that the information is conveyed properly and we present that item to the customer in the best possible way.”

While Tran may be the first out of the gate in Keswick, he won’t be the only game in town. There are three other pot shops in various stages of AGCO approvals, two located on The Queensway and another on Riverglen Dr.

The House of Cannabis will also have to compete with the pot shop run by the Chippewas of Georgina Island. Daawegamig, located in the Island View Business Centre next to the Virginia Beach Marina, has built up a loyal customer base since opening in 2019.

“There’s definitely going to be competition. But making sure the customer comes first is going to be key to winning in a competitive market and not just hustling someone through a sale,” Tran said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of retailers. And some people concentrate on the time it takes for each transaction. Can we get someone in and out of the door in a two or three minute timeframe? I think that ruins the experience for someone, especially if I’m coming in as a new user.”

While Tran believes his store will be competitive, he’s worried that too many pot shops could saturate the market in Georgina.

“I would say the saturation point is one store per 10,000 population. So it’s getting there. Unfortunately, some retailers are not going to make it. But that’s the nature of the free market, right?”

Currently, the AGCO won’t allow a pot shop to open within 150 metres of a school.

On June 23, Town Council approved a public interest statement that adds additional restrictions, including not allowing a pot shop within 150 metres of a daycare, nursery, or mental health and addiction centre. However, Town staff have acknowledged that AGCO is not bound by legislation to adopt the provisions of a public interest statement.

Council voted unanimously to lift the ban on pot shops in Georgina on May 19, opting into the AGCO’s licensing process.

The move was a reversal of Council’s previous 4-3 vote in January 2019 to opt-out, despite a public survey that showed more than 73 per cent of respondents supported legal cannabis retailing in Georgina.

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