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Province set to help pot shops pop up with a little more ease

'Opening more legal stores is the most effective way to combat the illicit market, protect our kids and keep our communities safe,' says Downey

After nearly a year of lotteries and confusion, getting a cannabis license is about to become a lot easier for those retailers who are serious about it.

Earlier this week, the provincial government announced it is taking steps to move to an open market for retail cannabis stores beginning in January 2020. The move is meant to give consumers more choice and convenience with a safe, reliable supply of cannabis.

Attorney General Doug Downey, an Orillia lawyer and MPP for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, said the move will be made with caution, but will be done to combat the illegal drug market.

"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 Downey.

"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."

Removing the temporary cap on the number of private cannabis stores in the province and eliminating pre-qualification requirements for prospective retailers are some of the key changes the government has made to cannabis regulations.

Liquid Chrome assistant manager Eric Batters welcomes the news and says it's something he had been hoping for ever since cannabis became legal.

“B.C. has a policy where anyone could apply for the licence, anyone could obtain it and so long as you didn’t break any laws, you could keep it,” said Batters. “But any issues or any rule-bending, they take the licence away and you don’t get another one. It just makes it easier and less of a hassle to get the licences going.”

Batters said many customers have been asking when they will get their cannabis licence.

“It is tough because we’ve been getting our hopes up and nothing has happened,” said Batters. “We had space ready in case we did and then we didn’t. We’ve gone back and forth so many times and it has been such a labour-intensive process.”

Barrie’s first cannabis retailer, One Plant, is part of a retail chain that is hoping to open up to five cannabis stores in the province by mid-2020, with a location on Essa Road in Barrie.

Increasing the ability of licensed producers to participate in the retail market will allow them to open a store at one of their facilities. The changes hope to enable more capital, experience and capacity to enter the market and will help more legal stores open faster.

Batters said he supports the new system fully, but warns that there is obviously a downside for anyone who gets a licence.

“It may become very saturated market,” said Batters. “It’s a big pie, but there are a lot of mouths, right? Its hard to say how it will go, but if Barrie gets 20 locations that sell it, I mean do the math.”

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will begin accepting operator licence applications from prospective retailers on January 6, 2020, followed by store authorization applications on March 2, 2020.

Store authorizations from this open application process are expected to be issued beginning in April, at an initial rate of approximately 20 per month.

Retailers will still be required to comply with the Cannabis Licence Act and regulations, as well as the AGCO’s Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores.

Some of the 42 proposed cannabis stores selected through the second lottery have been authorized to open their doors this month. Until August 31, 2020, retail operators may own a maximum of 10 cannabis stores, increasing to 30 in September 2020 and 75 in September 2021.

Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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