Ontario Opens Applications for Another 50 Cannabis Stores

The good news just keeps on coming for Ontario's legal cannabis market.

Getting legal cannabis in Ontario hasn't exactly been easy. Until April the only place that adults could legally purchase recreational marijuana was the online-only Ontario Cannabis Store. And even when licensed brick-and-mortar shops began to open a few months ago, the government only allowed 25 shops across the entire province - some of which still have yet to open.

But things will be getting a little better this summer. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has announced that they will hold the second lottery for legal pot shop licenses on August 20. This time around, Ontario will be licensing an additional 50 retail cannabis stores, eight of which will be located on First Nations territory.

The new lottery will work similarly to how the first one did. Applicants must have a leased retail space, have a $50,000 line of credit and be able to access $250,000 for funding the business.

The announcement comes after Statistics Canada found that legal cannabis sales more than doubled in Ontario after the province's first brick-and-mortar pot retailers opened shop. Dr. Avtar Dhillon—executive chairman and president of BC-based cannabis producer Emerald Health Therapeutics—said these huge sales increases prove consumers want to buy their cannabis in stores they can walk into.

"After the first 25 stores began to open in Ontario, the industry saw overall sales of cannabis basically double," Dr. Dhillon told CBC.

"Adult-use consumers are showing a preference for going into a physical location where they can interact with educated, savvy budtenders and we anticipate that the further expansion of physical stores in Ontario and Canada will strongly serve the growth of legal cannabis sales."

So does Ontario intend to move towards a more open licensing model? Attorney General Doug Downey said that can't happen until national cannabis supply issues are sorted out.

"While the federal supply issues persist, we cannot in good conscience issue an unlimited number of licenses to businesses," he wrote.

However, not everyone in the industry thinks the government can afford to wait that long. Omar Khan, a vice-president with PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies, explained that if officials ever want to see the black market squashed, they'll need to allow a lot more legal pot shops to open.

"If the government wants to eliminate the illicit market they will need to ensure that consumers are able to access legal product offerings conveniently and in a timely manner," said Khan.

"This means moving aggressively towards an open licensing system as soon as the national supply situation permits, and working with the private sector to significantly improve the current online customer retail experience."

So while things still aren't perfect in Ontario, it's good to see things are coming around.

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Hiding behind big sunglasses, I slunk to my car and started the engine. The bag containing a month’s worth of flower and edibles that I had just bought at Weedology, a legal dispensary in Ontario, Oregon was stuffed hastily into my bag; I dared not unseal it to survey the goods. Though my heart was pounding, I forced myself to cut a slow track out of the parking lot.

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