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Newfoundlander has high hopes for his province’s pot industry

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PORTUGAL COVE, NL — Newfoundland’s unique position in the North Atlantic one half-hour ahead of the rest of the country means there will be a desperate crush of retailers clamouring to record the first-ever legal sale of cannabis in Canada on the morning of Oct. 17, 2018, but local lore will judge Thomas Clarke as the homegrown folk hero who got out in front of the rest.

True, technically speaking, the path traced by the rising sun westward across the continent next Wednesday will ultimately grant bragging rights to that historic first sale to one of the handful of pot shops also set to open in downtown St. John’s and neighbouring Mount Pearl slightly to the east of Clarke’s budding THC Distribution setup in Portugal Cove, a picturesque oceanside burg just a hair’s breadth west of St. John’s and a mere 26 kilometres from Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America.

Thomas H. Clarke, outside his cannabis store THC Distribution, near St. John’s, Nfld., is hoping to be the first independent seller to legally sell marijuana for recreational use in Canada on Wednesday.
Thomas H. Clarke, outside his cannabis store THC Distribution, near St. John’s, Nfld., is hoping to be the first independent seller to legally sell marijuana for recreational use in Canada on Wednesday.  (Paul Daly / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Corporate-marijuana giant Canopy Growth — about to open a $55-million, 150,000-square-foot grow op in St. John’s, licensed to supply the province with 12,000 kilograms of pot a year in addition to a half-dozen branded outlets scattered across the Rock — is already making a big noise about how one of its own outlets on Water St. will be the first place to sell a legal gram of cannabis in Canada.

CEO Bruce Linton will be on the ground to mark the moment before “ending his day at our headquarters here in Smiths Falls for a huge celebration,” a Canopy representative affirms.

That hasn’t stopped Clarke from doing a masterful job of stealing Canopy’s thunder in the local media — even in the pages of long-lived American pothead bible High Times magazine — for months now, however. And he’s still at it.

“I’ll be the first independent, locally owned guy to make a sale in Canada and I think that’s a way better story than Tweed sells their weed to their f — in’ CEO,” he laughed good-naturedly down the line from Portugal Cove over Thanksgiving weekend, audibly beaming at the news that the St. John’s CBC-Radio affiliate would be broadcasting both its morning show and its noon-hour call-in show, Cross Talk, live from THC Distribution on Legalization Day.

Any way you cut it, Clarke’s successful bid to turn his former home at 1614 Portugal Cove Rd. into a legitimate shop selling cannabis and cannabis accessories counts as a victory.

This has arguably been his destiny for most of his 43 years, even though his birth certificate might quibble with his assertions that he chose the name THC Distribution for his business because his middle name is “Herb.”

Clarke, 43, and a father of three children aged 11, 2 and 1, has put in his time in the marijuana game, even done time for it. He’s been selling weed in and around St. John’s since he was in junior high, got busted at 18, when a customer got caught with two ounces of hashish and ratted him out as the source and, despite never actually getting pinched with any physical product himself, spent 30 days in prison for his troubles the next year.

He’s been a public voice for reasonable cannabis laws ever since and, once the Trudeau government decided to follow through on its election promise to make weed legal, also became a constant, loud presence in the St. John’s media and in the faces of local politicians demanding that Newfoundland growers and business owners get a fair share of the pie.

His experience on the file, as it were, no doubt contributed to the success of the stringent, multi-faceted business plan he submitted to the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC).

“Because I’ve been working on this basically my whole life I guess I had a really good plan put together, right?” he says.

“I’ve been around the cannabis industry for 30 years. I started selling weed when I was in Grade 8. It’s always been my passion and something I’ve been a social-justice advocate for my whole life. So once Justin Trudeau was elected and I saw that, holy sh-, this is really happening I said ‘I have to start talking to people about this’ so Newfoundland could have a good foothold when legalization happened and that we went in the right direction, which I think would be having local product and local business owners opening shops. That’s a way to have the cannabis industry grow in Newfoundland and try to keep the industry as localized as possible.”

Most of THC Distribution’s initial, immediate competition will consist of miniature NLC-run outlets attached to Loblaws-owned Dominion supermarkets around the city, Ontario-based Canopy’s five planned storefronts in St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Conception Bay South and a few scattered weed-retail counters in convenience stores and “wellness” boutiques.

Clarke is the only person who received a licence for a “standalone, strictly cannabis shop” on the Avalon Peninsula — there’s another on the way in Labrador and one more to come on the west coast of Newfoundland, apparently, although as of Oct. 5, the NLC itself could only vaguely peg the number of outlets that might be approved in time to open for Legalization Day at around 20 — so that will, by virtue of geography, make his the first truly independent small business to sell legal marijuana in Canadian history on Legalization Day. He’s counting on Newfoundland pride to put him over the top.

He’s already trademarked the name “Wild Newfoundland Blueberry Cannabis Company” in hopes of eventually selling varieties of the Canadian-born cannabis strain known as “blueberry” — ideally to be someday grown right in Newfoundland — to pot-starved international tourists bused out to Portugal Cove from the cruise ships that routinely dock in St. John’s harbour. He dreams of marketing locally grown weed “grown with the oldest, freshest water in the world” sourced from wandering icebergs.

“The options for cannabis for 300,000 people on the Avalon are going to be either the Dominion grocery store or the Tweed/Canopy weed-corporation giants or the local cannabis expert in Portugal Cove,” he says. “So I think I’m gonna do okay.”

Clarke hasn’t had the easiest time getting THC Distribution off the ground. This past August, a petition circulated by some of his neighbours in Portugal Cove and last-minute fretting by the local council over his business application suddenly had his $125,000 investment up in the air. The Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s municipal government swung back around to his side on Oct. 2, though, voting 5-2 in favour of him opening his doors on Oct. 17.

Now, like every other legal pot retailer in Canada, he’s stuck worrying about how many of the licensed producers he’s required to buy his stock from through the NLC will actually have product available in time for Legalization Day.

The margins are going to be tight, any way you cut it, since Newfoundland law allows for only an 8-per-cent commission on product sold; of the $66,847 Clarke has spent on Canopy weed for opening day, he only stands to make about $5,000.

“If I’m not ready to open on the 17th it’s gonna break my f — ing heart. But I’m 99.999 per cent sure I will be,” he says. “The NLC had seven licensed producers signed up and only two of them have weed to ship for the 17th. I know I’ll have Canopy stuff and I think I’ll have Aurora, but that’s it. Everyone else has delays because of packaging problems or problems with the weed they grew or problems with their Health Canada licences for selling it and stuff, so there’s a lot of f — in’ tangly problems down here. If I don’t run out of weed on the first day, I’m pretty sure I will on the second or third day.

“It’s definitely a long-haul venture.”

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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