Ontario to issue 50 new licences for cannabis stores

Ontario is rolling out a second round of cannabis stores, planning for 50 to start opening this October in addition to the 22 that are already serving customers.

A lottery of pre-approved applicants will be held Aug. 20 by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario with results to be announced the next day, Attorney General Doug Downey said Wednesday.

“We believe we’re at a point where we can do another 50 stores,” Downey said.

Three of the original 25 stores granted authorizations still have not opened and the government is holding back on its original plan to allow as many outlets as the market can bear because there is not enough product to supply them at this point.

“We’re ramping up, but we’d like to be further along,” said Downey, a lawyer who was promoted to cabinet in Premier Doug Ford’s shuffle last month.

“While the federal supply issues exist, we cannot in good conscience issue and unlimited number of licences to businesses. A phased-in approach remains necessary.”

Finance Minister Rod Phillips said there have been “marginal improvements” in supply.

Thirteen of the new stores will be in the Toronto region, with another six in the GTA, seven in eastern Ontario, 11 in western Ontario and five in the north in Timmins, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Kenora and North Bay.

Another eight stores will be allotted for First Nations reserves through a separate application process.

Cannabis retailers have struggled to open stores in Ontario since retail storefronts were allowed to open starting April 1, with barely half of the initial 25 approved applicants meeting that initial deadline.

Retailers hoping to open stores this fall must prove they have store locations secured and the financial wherewithal to backstop their business.

Recreational cannabis became legal across Canada last Oct. 17, with only the government-owned Ontario Cannabis Store selling online and operating as the authorized supplier to the privately owned brick-and-mortar shops.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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