Ontario to resume issuing new cannabis store authorizations

(This story has been updated to reflect new information from the AGCO.)

Ontario’s cannabis regulator will resume issuing new store authorizations for stores that are complete, meet all regulatory requirements and do not violate any of the province’s emergency order restrictions, according to a revised notice.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) hit pause on new Retail Store Authorizations (RSA) in early April because of the emergency measures enacted by the province to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the revised notice published on its website soon after the first one was issued, the AGCO clarified that the stores must be “complete” and in compliance with Ontario’s emergency order, which paused noncritical construction work.

The AGCO said about a dozen stores had completed construction and fulfilled the eligibility process before the emergency order was issued.

“The AGCO expects to continue issuing RSAs at the same rate as before – that is, approximately 5 (per) week – 20 per month,” a spokesman told Marijuana Business Daily.

“Some applicants may have already had a ready-store when they first applied. If they were to complete the public notice process without issue – and have also already been completely built out and are ready to go – we will be in a position to authorize them as well.”

The public notice period for applicants is continuing.

New store openings in Ontario are key to maintaining the growth of Canada’s cannabis industry.

Ontario’s five dozen cannabis stores put the province far behind Alberta and British Columbia – the provincial leaders in marijuana retail – which have opened 181 and 446 stores, respectively.

Despite that, Ontario’s adult-use cannabis sales rose 3% in February to 38 million Canadian dollars ($27 million), leading Canada.

“Restrictions imposed by the emergency order, including the pause to construction work, have delayed many new retailers in the preparation of their stores,” the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario said in the first post. “However, the AGCO will resume issuing RSAs to those stores that have met all regulatory requirements.”

Applying for a Retail Operator License (ROL) is the first step for businesses seeking to open a licensed cannabis store in Ontario. It also determines that store operators meet eligibility criteria.

The next step involves Retail Store Authorization (RSA) applications, which deal with the particulars of a physical cannabis store such as location, layout and security plans.

As of early April, Ontario’s cannabis regulator received nearly 900 Retail Operator License (ROL) applications for marijuana stores since it opened up the process to all comers on Jan. 6.

Ontario previously ordered private cannabis stores to close for two weeks as of April 4 because of the coronavirus. Soon after, the stores were given at least a 14-day window to continue serving customers through curbside pickups and home delivery.

For more of Marijuana Business Daily’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the cannabis industry, click here.