Province to open Ontario cannabis retail market to private sector: report

Cannabis

The Ontario government will reportedly allow private stores to sell marijuana once recreational cannabis becomes legal on Oct. 17, a move previously coveted by some Ottawa area pot firms.

A source in the provincial government told the Globe and Mail that Finance Minister Vic Fedeli and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney are expected to make an announcement as early as next week to outline a plan to let the private sector own and operate cannabis shops.

The source, who spoke on condition of not being identified, also indicated that the government would still control the distribution of the product to the stores and manage online sales.

The previous Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne had planned to give the Liquor Control Board of Ontario a monopoly on the sale of recreational cannabis, with 40 stores slated to open this year under an LCBO subsidiary called the Ontario Cannabis Store.

The new system would mirror the Alberta model, which will allow for privately run cannabis stores to sell marijuana with licences granted by the liquor commission.

Licensed producer Canopy Growth has previously expressed interest in opening up retail operations from its Smiths Falls headquarters. The firm, one of Canada’s largest pot producers, has already announced plans to open its own stores in provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba where private retail frameworks are already in the works.

Ottawa’s National Access Cannabis is also pushing into private retail in western Canada with its plan to convert existing Second Cup coffee shops into cannabis cafes. The firm said it expects to expand its cannabis cafe strategy to other provinces when and if private sales are permitted.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has already indicated that he was considering the private sector, saying in late June that he doesn't believe “government should stick their nose into everything.”

A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Finance wouldn't comment on the details but said the province will be ready by the time marijuana is legal in October.

– With files from OBJ staff