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As New York mulls legalizing pot, Toronto tokes up

TORONTO – Adam Ash, 37, wasn't the least bit shy in explaining why he was at the Hunny Pot Cannabis Co., a four-story boutique on Queen Street West in the middle of the city's downtown district.

"Marijuana," the Toronto resident said midday on a recent Monday, a little bewildered as to why someone would even bother asking.

Glass containers of marijuana flower were laid out on tables throughout the shop, amid glass cases of rolling papers, pipes, bongs, grinders and vaporizers. Employees known as "bud tenders" worked the floors, ready to provide advice and recommendations for picking just the right strain.

While New York mulls becoming the 12th state in the U.S. to legalize the adult, recreational use of marijuana, Canada legalized the use, sale and growing of marijuana nationwide in October.

Regulations differ from province to province, but in Ontario, adults 19 and over can legally possess up to 30 grams – just over 1 ounce – of dried cannabis, and they can smoke it anywhere it's legal to smoke tobacco. That means you can light up right on the street. (If New York legalizes marijuana, public smoking would not likely be allowed on this side of the Peace Bridge. The current version of the proposed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act would not allow smoking marijuana in public.)

Initially, the only way to legally purchase cannabis in the province was through a website run by the government, the Ontario Cannabis Store. Canadians could order marijuana and have it mailed to them.

Since then, Ontario decided to allow 25 dispensaries to open in the province.

The Hunny Pot was the first legal dispensary for recreational marijuana to open in Toronto. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Hunny Gawri, who got his start in the retail business with two cellphone shops, entered the lottery for the chance to be among them.

"I knew I wanted to be a part of it," Gawri said.

In January, he got word he had won one of the coveted permits to get into the legal marijuana industry but there was a caveat – he had just under three months to get the store open, or face hefty fines for being behind schedule. He made it just in time. On April 1, the Hunny Pot became the first legal cannabis dispensary to open in Ontario. There are now three more legal dispensaries in Toronto and one more expected to open shortly, the maximum currently being allowed in the city. The first legal dispensary in Niagara Falls, Ont., called Choom Cannabis Co., opened over the weekend.

The store bills itself as a resource for cannabis education, with store associates having completed extensive training.

Screens behind the counter show the menu for products they sell. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Gawri didn't want to say exactly how business has been going, but he said he is "not complaining."

As Canada continues to roll out new regulations, he's looking forward to being allowed to get permits to build more stores.

"This is my flagship store," Gawri said of his shop on Queen Street West.

The Hunny Pot is located in a former New Era Cap store, sandwiched between a juicery and a handpulled noodle shop in a bustling neighborhood popular with tourists.

Customers must be 19 and are carded at the front door. Just inside there's a counter for "express" service – popular with regulars who know exactly what they want. That's about a third of their clientele, said Cameron Brown, Hunny Pot's communications officer.

Owner Hunny Gawri in the lobby of the store on Monday, June 10, 2019. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Other customers browse the line of offerings and get one-on-one attention from a "bud tender" who will show them the array of products, the kinds of marijuana available and help them select what they might enjoy.

After consulting with bud tender Lexi Medici, Ash bought two pre-rolled joints and 3 grams of a "Dreamweaver" marijuana. It set him back $77 Canadian.

"It's pretty cool," he said of the sleekly designed store.

Pre-rolled marijuana "joints" can be purchased and used anywhere in public and mimics the same rules as cigarette use in the community. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Business was brisk at the Hunny Pot last Monday, thanks in part to some of those headed to Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors at the Rogers Centre. Hundreds of people lined up to get into the arena or the area set up for fans to take in the game outside the Centre. The scent of marijuana wafted from the crowds within plain sight of police officers.

Among the fans waiting in line was Daniel Endale, 19, who was enjoying a small joint. He'd already been in line for a long time – "Five hours," he said. In another line, a 19-year-old lit up a joint, as others around him smoked, shared pizzas and snacks and tapped away on their cellphones.

Daniel Endale, 19, smokes a joint as he waits in line for the Raptors game in Toronto. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The marijuana at the Hunny Pot comes from the Ontario Cannabis Store. The dispensaries can sell cannabis flower (bud) for smoking, cannabis oil and capsules. Edibles, like gummies and sodas infused with THC, aren't legal in Ontario as they are in places like California, but are expected to be legalized later this year. Cartridges for vaping also cannot be sold in stores but vaporizers that can be used with dried flower are allowed.

Pre-rolled joints are an especially popular item with tourists, Brown said. Those range in price for $12.65 Canadian for a three-pack of .25 gram-joints to $17.50 Canadian for one 1 gram joint of higher quality product.

The store has seen American tourists come across the border to make purchases.

"We can always see the influx of American cash on the weekends," Brown said.

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