No private pot sales by Day 1: lawyer
If Ontario changes course to allow privately-run pot shops, they won’t be ready to open on Day 1, predicts cannabis legal expert Trina Fraser.“No chance,” said Fraser, an Ottawa lawyer who advises the cannabis industry.Recreational pot will be legal across Canada on Oct. 17.Until a few days ago, Ontarians were expecting to buy their first legal bud at government outlets run by a subsidiary of the LCBO. But there has been widespread speculation — fuelled by unnamed government sources — that Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives will instead opt for privately run stores. Fraser joins many in the cannabis industry who welcome the idea, but she ticks off a daunting list of things that would have to be done to make it happen.The government would have to amend the cannabis legislation passed by the former Liberal government and create a framework for licensing private stores, she said. “And behind the regulations there have to be processes and policies and an actual department set up with people to be able to process those applications and inspect premises and grant licences. There’s quite a bit too it.”Municipalities would also probably have to pass zoning bylaws to control where stores can be located, she said.Stores would have to be leased or built, shelves filled and staff hired. “We are just over two months away,” she said. “There’s no chance.”As the clock ticks and speculation mounts — industry insiders were predicting an announcement would be made last week — Fraser said it would be helpful if the Ontario government made its plans known.“I have no idea where they are with all this. Is this (private stores) just a concept in principle, or have they decided upon it at some point or have they actually started?”Another industry insider, Deepak Anand of the consulting firm Cannabis Compliance, said he is confident the government will make the switch to private stores, based on his sources. Anand, who advises the industry on cannabis regulations, was the one who started the speculation with a post on Twitter.Anand agreed it would be a scramble, saying that “potentially there could be a few stores ready” by Oct. 17. However, the rollout of stores will be a gradual process across Canada anyway, he said.Ontario had planned to open only 40 government-run stores in 2018, increasing to 150 stores by 2020. Some other provinces aren’t much further ahead.“People seem to think that Ontario is in the Stone Age. But B.C. hasn’t even opened the application process for private stores yet.”Anand said Ontario has the chance to learn from the provinces that are allowing private pot stores: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland. B.C. will have a mix of government-run outlets and private stores.Those jurisdictions have dealt with key issues differently.Alberta and B.C., for example, have limited the number of licences that can be awarded to any one company in an effort to prevent monopolies that would shut out smaller entrepreneurs.British Columbia has left the door open for illegal dispensaries to convert to legal stores. Alberta has banned those involved in the illicit market from getting a licence.One thing is certain: There would be no lack of interest in operating private pot shops. That’s clear from what’s happened in the western provinces.In Saskatchewan, the province held a lottery to award the coveted store licences.In Calgary, a city about the size of Ottawa, municipal officials are sifting through 261 applications for store licences. Competition is so fierce in that province that one Edmonton-based company, Fire & Flower, leased 37 locations in a calculated gamble it would gain licences.The applications are in various stages of approval, said company chief executive Trevor Fencott. Fire & Flower would like to run stores in Ontario, he said. “Our aim is to be in every province where private retail is allowed.”Gatineau cannabis grower Hydropothecary, which is changing its name to HEXO, bought a stake in Fire & Flower last month to gain a foothold in the retail sector.Two other Ottawa-area companies are well placed to get stores up and running. Canopy Growth Corp. of Smiths Falls has already won approval to operate stores in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Manitoba. Canopy CEO Bruce Linton has said his company could ramp up quickly to open stores in Ontario.National Access Cannabis of Ottawa is opening stores in Western Canada under its Meta brand, some of them in old Second Cup outlets. That company also has expansion plans.Fraser calls the interest “massive.”“I’ve had about a hundred calls from people, saying, ‘Can you help me get a retail licence?’ ”
National Access Cannabis of Ottawa is opening stores in Western Canada under its Meta brand.
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