Canada: If Ontario allows private cannabis retailers, don't expect them to be ready on Oct. 17

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The Ontario government is reportedly considering a switch from a public to a private model for cannabis retailers. And if that happens, any hopes of buying legal weed on legalization launch day will go up in smoke, writes Calvin Hughes.

Rumors have been swirling that the newly elected government of Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford will be implementing private cannabis retail in Ontario as opposed to the provincially owned outlets that his predecessor - Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne - planned to open when legalization becomes law on October 17. And while there has yet to be any announcement from the provincial government, industry insiders are warning that consumers should not expect shops to be ready on Day 1 if the change occurs.

"No chance," said Trina Fraser - a lawyer who often advises cannabis businesses. She added that allowing private retailers would require a substantial overhaul of the current plans for the retail market in Ontario. For starts, the current legislation has to be amended, and new regulations put in place

"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 licenses," Fraser told the Ottawa Citizen.

She was also reluctant to say whether or not private retail will actually be coming to Ontario.

"I have no idea where they are with all this. Is this just a concept in principle, or have they decided upon it at some point or have they actually started?"

But Deepak Anand - a consultant with Cannabis Compliance - is more confident about the likelihood that the Ford government will be implementing private sales. And while he recognized that things don't look good for an October 17 launch, he also noted that “potentially there could be a few stores ready” when legalization takes effect. And that's not necessarily a failure, he added, since Ontario was already planning to take an incremental approach to launching the recreational market. And the Canadian province is already ahead of other jurisdictions.

"People seem to think that Ontario is in the stone age. But BC hasn't even opened the application process for private stores yet."

Whether Ontario sticks with public or goes with a private model, there's no denying that legalization is well along its way. The only uncertainty is how long Ontarians will have to wait before finally getting their hands on some legal marijuana.

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