Big changes are coming to the way cannabis retailers will be able to operate in Ontario.
The Ford government will open up the cannabis retail market with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario accepting operator licence applications from prospective retailers starting on Jan. 6, 2020 on a first-come-first-served basis. Starting in April, about 20 retailers a month will be able to open for business.
The province has been choosing brick-and-mortar cannabis shops based on a lottery system which has faced criticism for not including a merit component.
“In response to the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis, our government is determined to open the cannabis market as responsibly as possible,” said Attorney General Doug Downey in a statement. “We have said all along that opening more legal stores is the most effective way to combat the illicit market, protect our kids and keep our communities safe. That is our number one priority.”
The province says it will remove the temporary cap on the number of cannabis stores in the province and eliminate pre-qualification rules for new retailers.
Strict rules with respect to cannabis stores and keeping children safe along with regulations deny retailers a license for certain cannabis-related offences or any association with organized crime will remain in place.
The government says it will also allow legal cannabis producers to enter the retail market by opening shops on their premises.
Previous cannabis system not making inroads on the illegal weed market
Critics have described the system as excessively slow, arguing the lack of private retail options has prevented the province from making inroads on the illegal weed market.
A group of rejected pot-shop applicants even spoke out against the lottery system in court, critiquing the application process in a legal challenge that was ultimately dismissed.
Ontario’s opposition parties did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Cannabis consultant Omar Khan hailed the move as a positive step. He said it will help eradicate the illegal market and provide consumers with access to safe and regulated products.
Khan said the price of legal pot will be a key factor.
“As the government moves forward with this new licensing system it should also look at ways to enhance the online consumer experience and find ways to empower retailers to be better able to compete with illegal operators on price,” he said in a statement.
With files from The Canadian Press