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Ontario won't cap private pot shops once retail sales begin Apr. 1

Last Updated Sep 26, 2018 at 7:06 pm EDT

The Ontario government says it will not put a cap on pot shops when it starts licensing and regulating the province’s private cannabis retail marketplace.

The Progressive Conservative government says a bill set to be introduced Thursday will appoint the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario as regulator for the marketplace, giving it the power to grant – and potentially revoke – licences as well as enforce provincial rules on cannabis sales.

The province said Wednesday that anyone looking to open a pot shop will have to apply for both a retail-operator licence and a retail store authorization for each potential location.

Breaching provincial rules on cannabis sales would preclude someone from ever obtaining a licence in the future, it said.

“Zero tolerance means just that – zero tolerance,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said. “Any engagement with organized crime, any record of providing youth cannabis, any of that would bar you from participating in the private cannabis market.”

“If you are still operating an illegal retail operation after Oct. 17, you would not be able to get a licence in Ontario.”

The government announced last month that it would sell recreational cannabis online when pot is legalized in October, with private retail stores to follow next year.

Under the new bill, a government agency called the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp. is slated to handle the online cannabis sales, and a private retail model is scheduled to be in place by April.

The province has said the agency will also be the wholesaler to private retail stores.

Ontario municipalities that want to opt out of hosting pot shops will have until Jan. 22, 2019 to do so under the new legislation. Markham and Richmond Hill have previously indicated they would opt-out of establishing retail outlets in their communities.

The provincial legislation would also have the ability to set a distance buffer between pot shops and schools.

The previous Liberal government had planned to give the Liquor Control Board of Ontario a monopoly on the sale of recreational cannabis, opening as many as 150 retail stores by 2020.

Opposition critics have said they prefer a public sale model because LCBO staff have the experience and training to ensure socially responsible access. However, Attorney General Caroline Mulroney says the AGCO’s “deep experience” as an alcohol and gaming regulator makes it perfectly suited to be the province’s cannabis regulatory authority.

“AGCO staff possess a deep understanding of compliance enforcement in sectors that share a similar risk as what we expect from the cannabis market.”

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report