Retail cannabis stores now less onerous, more affordable

KENILWORTH – While the rules surrounding retail cannabis may be easing up, Wellington North is not expecting a store in the near future.

On Jan. 13, clerk Karren Wallace updated Wellington North councillors on changes to retail cannabis licensing.

She said that on Dec. 12, attorney general Doug Downey announced the government would remove the temporary cap on the number of private cannabis stores in Ontario and also eliminate the pre-qualification requirements for prospective retailers.

“Retailers will also be permitted to sell additional cannabis-related items, such as cannabis-related magazines and cookbooks,” Wallace stated in her report.

Previously, the Ontario government imposed a temporary cap of 25 retail stores across Ontario. Prospective retailers were also required to submit the following pre-qualification documents:

– confirmation from a bank or credit union that it had financial capacity to obtain $250,000 in cash or cash equivalents;

– confirmation that the retailer could obtain a letter of credit for $50,000 within five business days; and

– confirmation that the retailer had secured a suitable retail space.

Wallace said the pre-qualification requirements were scrapped Jan. 6.

Government officials said the changes aimed to increase the ability of licenced producers to participate in the retail market.

Currently, Ontario has 25 legal cannabis stores. Alberta, by comparison, has 324.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is now accepting operator licence applications from prospective retailers authorized to apply.   Applications will open to other retailers on March 2.

Wallace said store authorizations from the open application are expected to be issued starting in April, at a rate of about 20 per month.

Wallace said council and the public should know that “overall it has become less onerous and more affordable to get involved in the retail market.”

At the same time, Wallace noted the municipality has not had any formal inquiries since the provincial changes were made.

Mayor Andy Lennox noted there has been no relaxation of rules regarding store location.

Wallace added there is also no more lottery for stores “and you can sell more than cannabis,” including edibles and paraphernalia.

Lennox said he’d been doing his own “on the ground research” on the issue.

“My daughter wanted to take a picture of me going into a cannabis store,” he said. “She thought it might be good for blackmail.”

Lennox said he’d been curious because the store had cannabis in the sign, but the store was only selling paraphernalia.

Wallace visited a store in Collingwood. Though it was mid-morning, Wallace said the parking lot was full and the store, which was half the size of the council chamber, “had at least six or seven employees.”

Councillor Sherry Burke asked “if a retail store wanted to locate in Wellington North would the township be notified … or would this be just like any other entrepreneurial enterprise?”.

Wallace said council would not be notified unless it specifically asked for such information, adding the municipality does not issue business licences.

Economic development officer Dale Small said retail operations would need to meet AGCO requirements and regulations.

“It is a fairly long process, so I believe we would be well aware of something coming,” he said.

Staff noted the AGCO requirements involve a public notice on the building, and public commenting for 15 days.