Dougie here. Today I’ll be writing about a recent experience with the AGCO that got me thinking a little deeper about legal cannabis in Canada and particularly the way retailers are treated in Ontario.
For those of you not in the industry, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is the governing body for legal cannabis in Ontario. When these guys show up, you’re sure to be a bit anxious. They’ll come in as mystery shoppers and suddenly flash a badge at you. Then, depending on what they’re after, they may search your store for various things (Open cannabis, missing required documents, inadequate video surveillance etc).
Here is the Underground Store front with a Vestibule on the inside.
My interaction a few weeks ago was rather different from the usual. I was told that I had failed an ID interaction with a mystery shopper which was very surprising to me.
Apparently, a customer who appeared to be under the age of 25 was just BARELY given access to the store as he tells me this was a 49% fail.
The Entrance and the Vestibule before entering the Inside
Really man? 1%? First, you must understand the layout of my store. We have a vestibule entrance that leads to the main floor. Typically customers ring the bell, come up on the security camera, and if they appear to be under 25 I will ID them in the vestibule, otherwise they can come-on-in.
Inside the Store looking at the door to the Vestibule
On this particular day, I already had multiple customers in the store. When the mystery shopper rang the bell, I buzzed them through and began proceeding to the doorway. I ID’d the individual in the door-way so as to not step out into the vestibule and take my eyes off of the customers already in the store.
This is the view from the Entrance where I can still see all the customers inside.
The inspector tells me this is the logical thing to do, but unfortunately, it’s still a fail. He goes on to tell me this is a “you” problem. Well it got me thinking.. Is it really a “me” problem? No. Not entirely.
The problem lies in the stigmatisation of cannabis in this country. In Ontario, for anyone who has ever purchased alcohol, when are you ID’d at the LCBO? At the TILL. Why at the till? So that the cashier doesn’t have to leave vulnerable products and cash unattended.
Furthermore, you actually carry the products up to the cashier after inspecting them, and if you’re lucky you may even be able to snag a sample right on the spot..in the store! These scenarios sound fictitious in the retail cannabis world.
A number of months ago the government released an article entitled “Taking Stock of Progress: Cannabis legalization and regulation in Canada”. There’s some interesting data mentioned but one paragraph that particularly stood out to me was the following; “There is substantial evidence indicating that promotional activities, particularly those targeting youth, can have a significant impact on the appeal, social acceptance, and “normalization” of a particular product, and, in turn, its level of use.” What this implies is that as a country we are scared to normalise something we have already legalised.
We can say we’re trying to protect the youth but only from cannabis, alcohol and gambling are exempt in this agenda. Doesn’t that seem counter-productive? It’s no wonder the industry is in the turmoil it is, we are trying to operate in a country that doesn’t want us to succeed. My interaction with this inspector is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even touched on the security issues posed to retailers due to these restrictive guidelines, which has promoted the removal of window coverings in other provinces.
Furthermore, Why are advertisements for other vices allowed to run rampant? Bougie lifestyles implied from drinking various types of alcohol, gambling commercials trying to promote “fun” from your phone. But HEY! Don’t you dare look into that cannabis store!
According to the Inspector, The problem was “Me.”
Thank you so much for checking out Puff’s first story on Stories From the Frontlines. I would like to leave you with a song that resonated with me while thinking about all of this. “They Don’t Know – Myron & E”. Stay tuned for more!