One year into cannabis legalization, Grey and Bruce counties still don't have one single store to service the marijuana market.
And a cannabis ancillary products business operator in the region's most populous city says the province needs to do more to allow the budding industry to thrive.
Michael McFadyen, the owner of Michael's Marijuana Supply on 2nd Avenue East in downtown Owen Sound, calls the progress of the legal marijuana industry in Ontario "slow" -- mainly due to a lack of accessibility for consumers.
"Our closest store is Brampton or London, which is too far for most people to drive," McFadyen explains. "It's really just not accessible. You need a credit card to go on the government website ... you can't see what you're getting and you don't know the product."
McFadyen, 40, says he turns away customers "every single day" who come into his store looking to purchase marijuana. An employee at another shop that deals cannabis accessories on 9th Street in downtown Owen Sound, Zong, says customers also visit regularly asking if they can buy bud.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario regulates cannabis retail stores in the province. According to its list published online of current Cannabis Retail Store Applications, only 24 storefronts in Ontario are open to date.
To compare that to the alcohol industry, there are more than 1,680 stores across the province that sell booze, according to the Ontario government's website.
Bayshore Broadcasting News reached out to the Ministry of the Attorney General -- the government branch the AGCO reports to -- to inquire if the province acknowledges a need to expedite the process in licencing more cannabis retail stores. We also asked how the black market sale of marijuana can be effectively eliminated if consumers are not given a timely bricks-and-mortar purchasing option, and when the province expects all communities in Ontario to have reasonable proximity to a legally licenced marijuana store.
Jennessa Crognali, a spokesperson for Attorney General Doug Downey, provided the following statement.
"In response to the federal government's legalization of cannabis, our government has taken a responsible approach to opening cannabis stores across Ontario, allowing private-sector businesses to build a safe and convenient retail system that combats the illegal market while protecting children and youth."
The government is working with the AGCO and Ontario Cannabis Store to return to our original plan to allocate retail store licenses based on market demand."
McFadyen calls ensuring many more cannabis stores open in Ontario in Year 2 of cannabis legalization a "huge priority". Especially, he says, if the legal market wants to effectively stamp out the illicit market.
"The province has to have stores for everyone to make it accessible or else they'll never get rid of the black market," he explains. "Their way hasn't eliminated the black market at all. It's actually helped the black market thrive because of the lack of stores."
McFadyen adds high prices in the legal market also make it harder for consumers to move on from the illicit market.
A report released recently by Statistics Canada tabbed the average price per gram of legal cannabis in the country at $10.23, while the black market was nearly 45 per cent lower at $5.59.
"We need more stores, better prices and competition," McFadyen adds. "Let the economy run proper and let us have decent pot."