TORONTO — Ontario’s first cannabis retail shops are set to open their doors next week, but some of the 25 licence holders are still wading through the lengthy approval process and might not be ready for business.
Stores that fail to open on Monday could face escalating penalties, but the Progressive Conservative government said it would not rush the vetting process.
“We’ll wait and see on April 1 how many open,” said Finance Minister Vic Fedeli. “There was prohibition for 100 years and we’re going to be in this business for 100 years. We will not rush into anything.”
Recreational cannabis can currently only be purchased legally in Ontario through a government-run website.
The Tory government had initially said there would be no cap on the number of retail pot shops after cannabis was legalized. But in December, citing national supply issues, it said it was initially issuing licences for just 25 stores so operators could open for business on April 1.
Fedeli said he did not have extensive knowledge of the day-to-day approvals system being handled by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, but stressed that safety had to be the top priority.
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“I’d rather make sure that we get it right rather than rush in,” he said. “The AGCO is working to make sure that the 25 that were approved get their stores open in a timely manner.”
Earlier this year, the government held a lottery to determine the 25 entities that could apply to open the initial stores.
Lottery winners then had to turn in their application along with a $6,000 non-refundable fee and a $50,000 letter of credit. They also had to agree to a strict timeline to open their shops. The AGCO has the power to draw down the letter of credit in stages in case of delays.
Failing to open a store by April 1 can result in a $12,500 draw down, while not opening by the end of April means applicants risk losing their $50,000 letter of credit.