Ontario’s retail gamble

Published on August 23, 2019 by David Wylie

Like a game of Monopoly, it’s a roll of the dice in Ontario to see where the cannabis players land.

The province uses a lottery to determine who gets to open up a retail cannabis store. They announced this week the latest 42 lucky ones randomly generated from the 4,864 eligible expressions of interest.

It’s been a clumsy rollout.

Among the latest winners is the address of the province’s most notorious black market shop — Café. The dispensary has been subject to police raids, arrests, and cement barriers blocking entrances. In defiance, they continued to sell weed on the sidewalk outside, even putting up a mocking sign with their pop-up operating hours.

Now a numbered company with its address at the illegal store’s location at 104 Harbord Street in Toronto won a licence. It’s unclear if the people behind the company are owners of the black market chain, but the connection is being made.

The lottery resulted in other anomalies, including a dumb distribution of stores. The small town of Innisfil (population 30,000), for example, gets three stores — two side by side, even — while bigger municipalities, like Etobicoke, are underserved.

Longtime cannabis industry insider and advocate Abi Roach (pictured) has started a petition to end the lottery system.

“Ontario has now run two insane cannabis retail lotteries,” she says. “No other business gets [a] business license in this random fashion. Why does cannabis?”

Roach, who is the founder of Hotbox, says the lottery system “breeds corruption, regulatory loop holes, and worst of all it has no merit-based need for entry.”

The 42 selected applicants may now apply for a cannabis Retail Operator Licence and a Retail Store Authorization. Applicants have until Aug. 28 to do so, at which point the AGCO will undertake its full eligibility and licensing review. The AGCO will only licence applicants and authorize stores that meet all legal and regulatory requirements.

Here’s a map of the Toronto stores.