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Grower says the 'support local' mantra applies to cannabis, too

'The government controls the distribution currently, but we would love to have a retail store on our property someday,' says co-founder of Oro-Medonte grower

Despite the Ontario government overseeing the sale and distribution of the province’s cannabis industry, a push to “support local” is happening in Simcoe County. 

As of 2020, Ontario had the highest number of cannabis production companies with 112, followed by British Columbia in a distant second at 62.

Simcoe County is home to a few large cannabis producers, one of which is Carmel Cannabis in Oro-Medonte Township, south of Orillia. The company was launched in June 2019.

Co-founder Dustin Laren says Carmel falls into the cannabis industry's craft section, which mainly deals in small-batch, hang-dried and hand-cured product.

Like many others who are involved in the cannabis sector, Laren was in a different line of work before.

“I come from real estate development, but there has been a really strong team built around us here at Carmel,” says Laren, who has been in the cannabis industry for four years. “Our growing team comes with 15 years experience and one of our sales people comes from a large LP (licensed producer).

"It is still a new industry, so nearly everyone's new as well.”

The way the model works in Ontario is a producer must sell their product to the province, which then sells it to retail stores.

“We technically aren’t able to sell directly to a company like Star Buds, for instance. Star Buds goes to the province and requests our products,” Laren says. “But supporting Simcoe County is a huge thing for us. We want to help out in terms of in-store activations. Like if a flow-through model ever happens, we'd like to do rare, limited drops with local retail stores.”

The ordering process for cannabis shops features an online portal where retailers can see what products are available and from which companies. From there, they place their order, Laren says. 

The region’s largest retail chain is Star Buds Cannabis Company, which has five locations in the county. 

Star Buds' stock at its area locations includes local suppliers such as Carmel Cannabis, Peace Naturals and MediPharm.

Star Buds general manager Jason Edgar says he demand in the region is evident.

“What I’m seeing in Simcoe County is that the need is there, particularly in Wasaga where it has the highest aged population in Simcoe County,” Edgar said. “I’m seeing a lot of people who used cannabis in their youth are coming back to it for a variety of reasons.”

Edgar also says he and his staff are always able to discuss with people what exactly they are looking for and what strains are available to them.

“There is still a big focus on whole flower, for our customers at least. But we are seeing an increase in oil sales,” Edgar added. “That said, pre-rolls have become a big seller to us as of late.”

Just as many craft breweries have seating areas for customers to come and sample their beers and in-house stores to sell merchandise and products, Laren says it would be ideal to have something like that for cannabis producers in the near future.

“It's tough to gauge, because the government controls the distribution currently, but we would love to have a retail store on our property someday,” he said. “That's something we’re working with the township on doing. Just like a winery, people would get a tour, get educated and when they leave they pick up some of the product they just saw being grown.”

With the business growing so fast and so many retail stores popping up all over the province, Laren says acceptance of the industry is escalating every day.

“It's an exciting time for the cannabis industry and particularly locally. There are so many local retail stores and we are so happy to be part of the boom that is happening,” Laren said. “It will only get better from here.”