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Unsanctioned marijuana shop lands on police radar

An unsanctioned Indigenous-run pot shop operating out of a trailer on Wellington Street south of downtown London has landed on the radar of the police unit responsible for upholding Ontario’s cannabis laws.

From London Free Press by Dale Carruthers December 14 2022

Provincial police are investigating an unsanctioned Indigenous-run pot shop operating out of a trailer on Wellington Street in London that has raised the ire of at least one legal dispensary.

Spirit River Cannabis at 72 Wellington St., just north of Grand Avenue., recently opened without approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the province’s pot regulator.

OPP Det.-Const. Sarah Bamford, a spokesperson for the joint forces cannabis enforcement team, said the unit “is aware of the unlicenced cannabis retail store and will be looking into this in further detail.”

The OPP-led cannabis enforcement team — made up of police officers from nearly a dozen forces across Ontario — was established in 2018 to crack down on the illicit market for marijuana.

Store owner Maurice French said he’s exercising his treaty rights to open a “medicinal cannabis trading post” on traditional land of the Chippewa Nation, according to a letter delivered to Mayor Josh Morgan and police Chief Steve Williams.

Del Riley, a hereditary Crane Clan chief of the Chippewa Nation, who accompanied French to deliver the letters to city hall and police headquarters last month, said there’s been no response to the letters yet.

“That’s possible,” he said when asked whether he believes police will raid the pot shop.

But Riley, a former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he’s prepared for any outcome and is prepared to go to court.

The Wellington Street dispensary — the only physical pot shop in London operating without a licence — has drawn the ire of licensed cannabis retailers. Marie Ross, the owner of two Bob’s Bud Emporium stores in St. Thomas, complained to London city hall last week about the unsanctioned business.

The more than 1,500 cannabis retail stores licensed in Ontario, around 50 of them in London, must operate between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. and order all products from the Ontario Cannabis Store, the government-run marijuana wholesaler.

Spirit River, a 24-hour store selling ounces of marijuana for as low at $20, operates the business in accordance with the North Shore Anishinabek Cannabis Association, an organization created to self-regulate the Indigenous cannabis industry.

“Across Canada, Indigenous people are exercising their rights to grow, trade and sell cannabis as a medicine according to their own customs and conventions,” the association says on its website.

“We are forming an association to protect ourselves and to help those interested in joining this industry to open stores and grow together in the spirit of self-determination, economic prosperity and freedom.”

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