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July 15th, 2021 · No Comments

Five pot shops operating or set to open on Bloor within 450 metres

By Joshua Chong

The Annex is seeing a rapid increase in the number of legal marijuana dispensaries. There are five stores either operating or set to open on a stretch of Bloor Street West between Markham  and Major streets. All are within 450 metres of each other. 

Tokyo Smokes and Fire & Flower are already open, while Value Buds, Cannaverse, and Green Merchant are awaiting authorization from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). 

This surge in cannabis stores across the city in recent months is due in part to the acceleration of the processing of applications by the AGCO. In February, the commission increased the number of authorizations each week from 20 to 30. 

“Increasing the number of Retail Store Authorizations (RSA) is part of that strategy to ensure that stores across Ontario can open and operate with honesty, integrity and in the public interest,” wrote an AGCO spokesperson in a statement to the Gleaner. 

They also noted that this expedition in approvals is in line with the Government of Ontario’s approach of creating an “open market” for cannabis retail, and is meant to combat the illegal market. 

This increase in pot shop authorizations, paired with regulations on where these businesses can open, has led to dense clusters of dispensaries across the city—like what residents are seeing in the Annex. 

Under the Education Act, cannabis retail stores are prohibited from opening within 150 metres of a school. Many pot shops are clustered in the downtown core, along busy throughways such as Bloor, Queen, and Yonge streets. 

In Kensington Market, there will soon be eight dispensaries within 350 metres of each other. Last November, the local BIA, along with Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale) and MPP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale), sent a letter to the AGCO asking for local residents and businesses to have more say in the licensing process. 

They also requested that the public consultation process be extended to 30 days. Currently, community members have 15 days to submit comments or complaints on a proposed location. According to a spokesperson, the AGCO receives approximately 12 public submissions per store application. Most express concern about the dispensary’s proximity to a residential area, park, or community centre. 

In June 2020, city council adopted a motion tabled by Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth) requesting that the AGCO enact additional regulations surrounding cannabis store locations, including rules that prevent the clustering of pot shops. 

Layton, who voted in favour of the motion, wrote in a January 2021 Twitter thread that he supports local cannabis stores, but that there needs to be tighter regulations in place to ensure that pot dispensaries do not push out other local businesses. 

“Make no mistake, cannabis is big business and investors can afford rents that are higher than bakeries and coffee shops can afford,” he wrote. “Ford’s complete deregulation has resulted in landlord speculation which hurts the sustainability of our mainstreets.”

“That isn’t to say we shouldn’t have local cannabis shops. But their [sic] is a saturation point when a diverse offering of businesses would be more sustainable and desirable.”

The Gleaner has contacted Layton and the Mirvish Village BIA for additional comment. They did not respond by press time.

Jeff Pang, CEO of Green Merchant, wrote in an email to the Gleaner that the number of pot shops in the Annex is alarming. “We would be lying if we said we weren’t worried about the intense competition,” he wrote. “For us, we’re betting that providing value through our exceptional service and unique offerings that no other dispensary is offering will allow us to remain successful even in a crowded market.”

Green Merchant is one of several dispensaries awaiting approval to open a store in the neighbourhood. The shop will be located at 461 Bloor St. W., the former home of Frames N’ Graphics Inc. 

“Each of our stores is uniquely built for the community,” he wrote. “We are the friendly neighbourhood dispensary that welcomes you to hang out and treats you with new experiences you can’t get anywhere else. We believe the Annex will appreciate our effort to create something special.”

When Green Merchant opened their first store, they were met with some resistance from local residents. But Pang noted that they have worked hard to become contributing members of the communities they are in by supporting other small businesses. 

“Those that don’t know us yet have been a bit resistant to what they see as yet another dispensary in town,” he wrote. “We hope for the opportunities to have open conversation with those that are worried.”

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Tags: Annex · News

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