Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Ontario switches up its retail weed game

Ontario Premier Doug Ford appears to be making good on promise about privatizating cannabis sales in Canada's most populous province. (Christoper Katsarov / The Canadian Press Files)

The way things were going, the only legal way for millions of Canadian adults to purchase cannabis would have been the Ontario Cannabis Store, a government marijuana monopoly the likes of which the world has never seen.

Now, it looks like Ontarians will instead be able to purchase their state-sanctioned sensimilla from private stores. Ontario Premier Doug Ford appears to be making good on the privatization of cannabis sales in Canada's most populous province, something he hinted at on the campaign trail earlier this year.

The government of Ontario will remain responsible for wholesale distribution and online cannabis sales, according to a Thursday report from The Globe and Mail.

Clint Younge is the CEO of MMJ Canada, a chain of illicit dispensaries with five Ontario locations. He saw this move coming, but he's still "extremely excited" at the chance to operate legally in the province.

"We've been on the top of every list for applications all over Canada," said Younge, whose company lost out in Manitoba's private cannabis retail process but is still applying for opportunities in B.C. and Alberta. He said MMJ Canada has leases on future Ontario locations ready to go.

"We have to be very careful on how excited we get, and I think it's very important that we need to cross every T and dot all the I's," he said.

Ottawa-based cannabis industry lawyer Trina Fraser woke up to an inbox full of emails and voicemails after Thursday's news. Fraser said she wasn't surprised at Ford's privatization move, although she didn't expect it to happen so quickly.

With just 81 days until legalization, Fraser says the new government of Ontario has a lot of work to do on the cannabis file.

"I think it's unlikely that we're going to see (private) stores opening on October 17," she said.

Ontario law has already established the province's crown corporation as the only retailer of legal cannabis in the province, Fraser pointed out.

"I don't see any way we could proceed without there being amendments to that legislation."

Even if the law were to be changed, it's not like Ontario can just flip a switch from public retail to private retail and leave it at that.

"There's a licensing infrastructure that's required," said Fraser.

"They need to create applications and the requirements for applications, they need people processing applications, they need inspectors coming in to inspect facilities, they need to develop specifications for what these stores have to look like and what the requirements are to get a licence."

Then there's the question of local governments in Ontario, who will play their own role in determining exactly where private cannabis stores can open up.

"There may be further delay from a municipal perspective just as far as if municipal approval is acquired, then what process is the municipality going to go through before they'll grant that approval," Fraser said.

In short, the exact nature of private cannabis retail in Ontario remains a tantalizing mystery, but probably not for long. The official announcement from the provincial government could come next week, according to The Globe and Mail.

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What Next

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