Ontario received 450 cannabis store applications on March 2

Approximately 450 cannabis stores applications were filed in Ontario on March 2 – the first day Retail Store Authorization (RSA) submissions were accepted under the province’s new open-market process.

The strong interest demonstrates pent-up demand for regulated recreational marijuana stores, experts say.

Ontario is pivoting to an open-market store-allocation process after relying on two lotteries to open a few dozen stores since last spring.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) told Marijuana Business Daily it is “committed to moving complete applications through as quickly as possible.”

Ontario expects to start issuing store authorizations for the new applicants “before the end of April,” the AGCO spokesperson said.

“The AGCO will process applications as they are received. However, the first application received will not necessarily be the first issued, as a number of factors determine the length of time to process it.”

Some factors include:

  • Submission deficiencies and the applicant’s responsiveness in providing new information.
  • Whether an applicant has already received a Retail Operator License (ROL), which some have.
  • If a location is “store ready” versus one where renovations have yet to start.
  • A 15-day public notice period.
  • A five-day period in which an applicant will have to respond to the AGCO on the nature of the comments.

Prospective store operators who received or applied for an ROL are now allowed to submit up to 10 RSA applications.

As of last week, just under 800 ROL submissions had been filed since the AGCO started accepting open-market applications Jan. 6.

Oakville-based retailer Shiny Bud submitted six of the 450 RSA applications the AGCO saw March 2.

Director Rich Ledesma said the retail markets in British Columbia and Alberta offer “strong indications” as to what to expect in Ontario.

The two provinces have issued licenses to 623 stores – the most in Canada.

Shiny Bud currently operates one store in Toronto.

It is among a handful of stores that ultimately decided to remain independent.

“We decided that we were going to self-finance this project and do it ourselves, because it is such an opportunity to be able to build a brand on our own,” Ledesma said, adding it was tempting to partner with a bigger group.

“We wanted to do it our way,” he said.

“We felt that this is such an emerging industry, there are no real leaders yet. We can be impactful.”

Applications must be submitted through the iAGCO online portal.

Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at mattl@mjbizdaily.com.