Ontario to double pace of new cannabis store approvals

(This story has been updated with comments from a cannabis analyst.)

Ontario’s cannabis store regulator will double the number of stores it licenses per month, signaling faster growth on the horizon for Canada’s largest adult-use marijuana market.

In a late Tuesday announcement, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) said it had issued 164 store licenses to date, with 150 stores open.

“At the government’s direction, the AGCO is now moving to double the pace of store authorizations this fall,” according to the agency’s announcement.

“The AGCO will soon contact all affected retail store applicants directly to advise them of any change to the timing of the issuance of their store authorizations.”

Beyond specifying “this fall,” the AGCO announcement did not make clear exactly when the increased pace of licensing will take effect.

“I think it still remains to be seen whether or not that doubling applies to September,” said Omar Yar Khan, national cannabis lead with Toronto consultancy Hill+Knowlton. “I think it might, but if not, I suspect it’ll definitely apply to October.”

AGCO had previously committed to authorizing approximately 20 new stores per month, meaning roughly 40 stores should be licensed each month under the new directive.

“I think that there is an opportunity, and I think there is an appetite within the sector, to see that cap lifted even further, perhaps to 75 (store authorizations) a month or even 100 a month,” Khan told Marijuana Business Daily.

“The government will need to work with OCS as they work to build up their warehousing capacity,” Khan added.

“But I think folks within the industry and folks who are waiting on their applications would be happy to hear that there is a plan in place to increase the (store) rollout in a responsible way.”

Ontario continues to lag behind other Canadian provinces in opening licensed cannabis stores.

With 164 adult-use cannabis store licenses, Ontario, with a population of 14.7 million people, offers roughly 1.1 cannabis store licenses per 100,000 people.

In contrast, the province of Alberta leads the market in terms of cannabis stores per capita, with 517 licenses to date or approximately 11.7 licenses per 100,000 people.

Retail sales figures show those raw store numbers are driving sales of regulated marijuana in Canada.

In June, regulated cannabis sales in Alberta were worth CA$46.7 million, a close second to Ontario’s CA$48.9 million in sales despite Alberta’s much smaller population.