Clint Younge, the CEO of MMJ Canada, talked to us about how Ontario’s LCBO retail model for recreational cannabis threatens to put all of Ontario’s existing dispensaries out of business, what he hopes to accomplish by speaking to Hamilton city council, and how we can join the fight for fair and common sense cannabis laws.

You recently spoke to Hamilton’s City Council. Can you tell us about the experience?

It was great. I got 45 min to speak and the councillors were listening and asking important, valid questions like “Why are you bringing your dispensaries from Vancouver even though you’re from Hamilton, and why are other dispensaries not following the rules?”

Some dispensaries aren’t following the rules because they are not educated- they don’t know the rules. They don’t know that you’re not supposed to open within 300 m of a school. There’s even one dispensary that’s directly across from a school, like 10 m away! But the dispensaries aren’t doing it out of spite, and the council needs to open the communication lines so we can work together.

I’m trying to help Hamilton with what I learned in Vancouver because Hamilton is my hometown, and I’m like “We need to regulate and figure this out. We need to start talking.”

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Clint speaking to the Licensing and Standards Committee

Which councillors would you consider cannabis-friendly?

There’s so many. 100% councillor Matthew Green is cannabis-friendly. He has no issue with cannabis. He doesn’t like the big corporations and he doesn’t like the LCBO model and he thinks there’s a lot of hypocrisy going on in the government- you can see it with former high-ranking government officials jumping into bed with licensed producers, leaving small businesses to fend for themselves or worse.

But councillor Green also made it very clear that dispensaries need to stay away from schools. If you’re coming to Hamilton, he expects you to operate like a proper business.

There’s also councillors Jason Farr, Terry Whitehead, and Arlene Vanderbeek who believe there needs to be standards but don’t have an issue with cannabis. Even Doug Conley, the councillor who put the motion forward for more enforcement, was open-minded and listened to me. After I talked to the councillors during my delegation, the city actually rewrote the motion!

The original enforcement was for all dispensaries in Hamilton. But after I spoke, the council came back and said “no non-medical cannabis in areas and residences near children”- which I am totally in favor of! And the dispensaries need to give up a little bit, too, but by working with the city, they’ll get to ensure the longevity of their business along with look good in the public eye.

Right now, we have the ability and the chance to do something very major in Ontario. I’ve never seen a city council this friendly and who knows how far they’re going to take this battle.

How do you feel about MMJ Canada locations in Hamilton being raided a few times over the last few months?

If you were to see the way we were raided, you would have came in and looked around like “What, really?”.

Unlike in Toronto where all the staff are being charged along with whoever is on site, Officer Gibson called me and said “Hey Clint, this is a routine raid of your dispensaries but don’t worry, everything will be fine and I’ll let your staff go.”

When I got there, I told them about my PTSD and that I was really nervous. I asked if i was going to jail. The officer laughed and said that wouldn’t happen unless I had a warrant out, and they would just take my product and I could lock up the store within an hour.

The police were very polite- they even said I had a beautiful establishment and said they believed that only 5% of the cannabis industry had ties to organized crime. I think 5% is a fair assumption but really, 5% of any industry could have that criminal element.

I see the raids as just the bumps and bruises that come with cannabis, and the police are only doing their jobs. But, I think they have bigger things to deal with in Hamilton like the opioid crisis, hard drugs, guns, and organized crime- the real issues.

I even made a video of the raid where I explained exactly what was happening and it went kind of viral, and some of the police even thanked me for it later!

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One of Hamilton’s MMJ Canada locations.

How has the community responded in the wake of Ontario’s plans for an LCBO-controlled retail model?

The community is scared, and anyone who says they aren’t is lying. We’re all scared because we’ve built our lives on this. We’re in the public spotlight now and we have to defend what we love and fight for our small businesses.

We want to be treated like businesspeople- we’re setting standards in our shops, we’re paying taxes, and we’re testing our products- and we want the credit that we deserve for all the work we’ve done and we’re getting tired of always having to fight for it.

But as tired as everyone is, I’ve never seen a community battle like the cannabis community. It is the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life. It’s a David versus Goliath story, and we’re taking the punches and we’re rolling with it.

We’re all fighting because we have no life left if we lose.

How long has MMJ been open in Hamilton?

A year and a half now. May 4th (May the 4th be with you) back in 2016. In Toronto we opened on Apr. 23rd, 2016.

Do you think it would be better if Canada had consistent cannabis laws across the country?

I don’t know about that- that’s really hard to say. Let’s be honest, it’s Canada. The provinces are going to do whatever they want. But I believe there should be a general standard and a general kindness. Dispensaries should be included, in every province, but I think that Ontario also has the right to go with the LCBO model and I get it- it’s simple and to the point.

But it’s like they’re ripping the heart out of the chest.

We’re wasting all this money on court cases and litigation when really, everyone could be making a little bit of money and the most important thing- our patients won’t be going without their medicine for Christ’s sake!

People don’t get that it’s all being taken away from where we started- when it was all about compassion. That compassion for patients is being lost in the translation to legalization.

What approach do you think Ontario should take instead?

I think Ontario should have a private and public partnership, where the government and private businesses can work together- like the LCBO and craft beer. In Ontario, there’s Collective Arts Brewing which is doing awesome things with craft beer, and I hope to see something similar with craft cannabis come up.

But I think that we’re going to see major constitutional challenges in the future and our patients could be very upset with the outcomes.

Aside from the Hamilton Votes Dispensaries Facebook page, how else can people show their support?

Social media. Hamilton Votes Dispensaries has been going great- we’ve already got 5600 signatures and they’re all ready to go out and vote. In just three months, we’ve already got thousands of members and it’s only going to grow. That’s just from our dispensaries- who knows what other dispensaries have been getting.

We’d love to see more of the public at the council meetings, and I’d love to see them show support when they see our videos come out.

Were there any last thoughts or upcoming events you’d like to tell us about?

I’ve got MMJ Canada’s ‘Collective Care’ event with rapper Merkules coming up on October 29 at Fortune Sound Club in Vancouver. It’s been amazing seeing this event grow over the last few years- we’ve had performances from the likes of Monster Truck, Walk Off the Earth, Scott Helman, and Bend Sinister in the past.  

It all started at my dispensary in Vancouver a few years back with my friend’s band, the Vancity Collab. It was great and kind of set a precedent where people started to listen to MMJ. From there it just steamrolled and got bigger and bigger, and now we’re selling out venues!

For the Oct. 29 event, we’ve got a $1000 prize for best Halloween costume with $750 and $500 for the runner-ups. We’re also doing a live auction for concert tickets and a night out in Whistler, and it’s all going to Friends with Hearts, an organization that my friend Jay Perry started. It’s for families that can’t afford Christmas. We’re raising like $20,000-30,000 between now and Christmas to buy these families Christmas presents. It’s so cool and it gives me goosebumps just talking about it knowing that kids who never got to experience Christmas actually get to. It’s awesome.

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Collective Care at Fortune Sound Club Oct. 29, 2017.