The first round of cannabis operator licences under Ontario’s licensing regime have been issued by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
On Thursday, the AGCO revealed the first three approved locations: The Hunny Pot Cannabis Co. in Toronto, The Niagara Herbalist in St. Catharines, and Central Cannabis in London.
The Toronto store will be located at 202 Queen St. W., near St. Patrick Street.
Authorizations for the stores are still pending and they must undergo an inspection by an AGCO compliance official.
In a statement a spokesperson from the AGCO said, “prior to opening, AGCO will conduct a number of compliance activities to ensure licence conditions and regulatory requirements are met – such as product display, security, and advertising and promotion restrictions. Once a store opens, there will be ongoing store inspections, including mystery shopping to ensure that age/ID requirements are being met.”
Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents the area where the store is located, welcomed the news.
“It needs to be available,” he said.
“You can’t legalize a substance and then hide it so you can’t access it otherwise that fuels a black market, which is what we are trying to avoid.”
In a statement provided to Global News, The Hunny Pot Cannabis Co. said, “With our pre-inspection and conditional RSA completed, we move to the next phase which is a hyper-condensed few weeks with a final site inspection just before doors open.”
The license owner said in the next few weeks, they will be planning for customer service that will coincide with the brand.
“This phase will include everything from finalizing sales material, external communications, and rolling out our comprehensive staff training program. There is a lot of hard work ahead for our entire team and we are nearly at the finish line.”
Right across the street from the future retailer is cannabis culture shop Friendly Stranger, whose owner, Robin Ellins, put in a bid in the lottery. But he was unsuccessful in his quest to open a store.
“It’s frustrating… the people who got to open stores put $75 in a hat and got drawn out whether they had any experience or not,” Ellins said.
While he said he’s not happy, there could be some positive effects.
“At least now instead of saying, ‘No, there is nowhere you can get it except for online at the OCS and have it delivered to your house. I’m sorry you’re a tourist who came to town and can’t buy cannabis anywhere,’ you can now go across the street,” he said.
Recreational cannabis can currently only be purchased legally in Ontario through a government-run website but 25 stores are expected to open across the province on April 1.
The AGCO said it can levy thousands in fines if applicants who get retail licences do not open their stores on time. Failing to sell marijuana by April 30, for example, would result in a $25,000 fine.
The Progressive Conservative government initially said it would not put a cap on the number of outlets, but later said it would begin with only 25 licences due to what it called “serious cannabis supply issues” that had to be addressed by the federal government.
The licences are being divided regionally with five going to the east of the province, seven in the west, two in the north, six in the Greater Toronto Area and five in Toronto itself.
– With files from The Canadian Press