Vassos Law LLP

Cannabis Retail Licencing

Frequently Asked Questions

When and Where Can I Legally Buy Recreational Cannabis?

Recreational cannabis will become legal on October 17th, 2018. Starting on that day, The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) will provide consumers over the age of 19 with an online-only retail store from which to legally purchase recreational cannabis.

Meanwhile, sales at ‘brick and mortar’ stores will begin on April 1st, 2018. These stores will be Privately Owned and subject to regulation in much the same way that liquor-licensed establishments are. The OCS will also remain the sole wholesale distributor for private marijuana retailers.

What are the Minimum Age Requirements for Recreational Cannabis Use?

You will need to be 19 and older in order to buy, use, or possess recreational marijuana.

How Much Recreational Cannabis Will People Be able to Possess?

You will be able to have a maximum of 30 grams (about one ounce) of dried cannabis in public at any time.

Where Can Cannabis Be Smoked?

The legislation that is currently being proposed would prohibit the smoking of cannabis in places where smoking tobacco and using e-cigarettes would be prohibited. There would be exemptions on these prohibitions in enclosed workplaces such as long-term care homes, hospices and designated guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns.

Specifically, you will only be able to use recreational cannabis in the following locations:

  • a private residence, including the outdoor space of a home;

  • your unit or on your balcony, if you live in a multi-unit building like an apartment or condo (depending on your building’s rules or your lease agreement);

  • some outdoor public places (like sidewalks and parks);

  • designated guest rooms in hotels, motels or inns, residential boats or vehicles fitted with permanent sleeping accommodations and cooking facilities when parked or anchored and meet other criteria; and

  • in controlled areas in: long-term care homes, certain retirement homes, residential hospices, provincially-funded supportive housing, designated psychiatric facilities or veterans’ facilities.

You will not be allowed to use recreational cannabis in the following locations:

  • indoor common areas in condos, apartment buildings and university/college residences;

  • enclosed public places and enclosed work places;

  • non-designated guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns;

  • school, on school grounds, and all public areas within 20m of these grounds;

  • children’s playgrounds and public areas within 20m of playgrounds;

  • child care centres, or where an early years program is provided;

  • in places where home child care is provided — even if children aren’t present;

  • within 9m from the entrance or exit of hospitals (public/private), psychiatric facilities, long-term care homes, independent health facilities;

  • outdoor grounds of hospitals (public/private) and psychiatric facilities;

  • non-controlled areas in long-term care homes, certain retirement homes, provincially-funded supportive housing, designated psychiatric or veterans’ facilities, and residential hospices;

  • publicly-owned sport fields (not including golf courses), nearby spectator areas and public areas within 20m of these areas;

  • a vehicle or boat that is being driven or is at risk of being put into motion;

  • restaurants and on bar patios and public areas within 9m of a patio;

  • outdoor grounds of specified Ontario government office buildings;

  • reserved seating areas at outdoor sports and entertainment locations;

  • grounds of community recreational facilities, and public areas within 20m of those grounds; and

  • sheltered outdoor areas with a roof and more than two walls which the public or employees frequent, or are invited to (e.g. a bus shelter).

Other laws and policies may also apply to restrict cannabis use in these places, such as municipal by-laws, condo by-laws, lease agreements, and the policies of employers and property owners.

The maximum fines on conviction would be $1,000 for a first offence, and $5,000 for subsequent offences.

Who Will Regulate the Private Sale of Recreational Cannabis?

As of September 26th, 2018, the government of Ontario has announced the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) as the regulator for privately run recreational cannabis stores. 

The AGCO is already responsible for the regulation of the Province’s alcohol, gaming and horse racing sectors. Its new mandate will be focused on the safe, responsible and lawful sale of cannabis, consistent with the government legislation.

The AGCO will have the authority to enforce compliance of the relevant legislation. This authority will include the ability to revoke licenses from stores that fail to comply with the conditions set by the Province.

The AGCO will definitely have their work cut out for them in the coming months. They will need to create and define the licensing process for private retailers in order to support the Provincial government’s goal of having private stores licensed and open for business by April 1, 2019.

What Licenses Must Be Acquired From the AGCO In Order to Open a Cannabis Retail Store?

Currently, potential Cannabis Store Operators will be required to apply to the AGCO for a Retail Operator License and a Retail Store Authorization for each store that they want to operate. All Stores will also require a designated Manager, who must possess a valid Retail Manager Licence.

What Kind of Standards Must Be Met In Order to Apply for a Retail Cannabis Store License?

The Provincial government has reaffirmed their commitment to public health, public safety and protecting our youth. Accordingly, any engagement with organized crime and any record of providing youth with cannabis will bar applicants from participating in the private cannabis market.

With that said, people who have previously been convicted for marijuana-related offenses will not be barred from applying for a License through the AGCO.

It should also be noted that the private retail store model would be tightly regulated and strictly enforced. The Provincial government has announced that a zero-tolerance approach will be taken with respect to any retailer who provides cannabis to a minor or tries to sell cannabis without a license. Accordingly, any retailer that contravenes the legislation will lose their license and/or be barred from ever acquiring a License in the future.

Is There a Limit on the Number of Licenses That Will Be Granted?

UPDATE 1: On December 13, 2018, the Government of Ontario announced that that a temporary cap of 25 Retail Store Authorizations would be imposed while cannabis supply stabilized. This cap will likely extend into the late Spring / early Summer of 2019.

UPDATE 2: On July 3, 2019 the Government announced that an additional fifty (50) cannabis retail stores will be permitted across Ontario, consisting of forty-two (42) in any municipality that has not opted-out of hosting cannabis retail stores, with the exception of the North Region, where a cannabis retail store location must be located in one of five (5) cities. There will be a separate allocation of eight (8) cannabis retail stores on First Nations reserves.

In keeping with the Provincial government’s free-market mandate, there was originally no announced limit on the number of Licenses that will be granted - and the government had confirmed that the Licensing framework would not be capped. That said, the currently-proposed legislation does allow for concentration limits to be set for how many retail store licenses a single operator can hold, and for distance buffers to be set between Cannabis Retail Stores and schools. The legislation also does allow for some flexibility with respect to hard caps on Licenses granted within a particular area - though it remains to be seen what these caps would look like, and the Provincial government is not currently endorsing such a cap.

Will Cannabis Retail Stores Be Opened Province-Wide?

The currently-proposed legislation gives municipalities the choice of opting-out of having Cannabis Retail Stores in their communities. This opt-out must be exercised before January 22nd, 2019, or else the municipality will automatically be deemed to have opted-in.

How Will Private Retailers Be Able to Apply to Sell Recreational Cannabis?

The AGCO has confirmed that they are not yet accepting applications for recreational cannabis store licenses. This is because more time is needed in order to define the licensing process for private retailers.

Although the Private Retail System is not yet in place, all early signs point towards a similar model to that which is used by the AGCO with respect to Liquor and Gaming Applications - albeit with relevant changes where necessary. Given also the zero-tolerance approach that the Province will be taking with respect to enforcement, we expect the licensing requirements to be more stringent with respect to the sale of Recreational Cannabis.

What About Already-Existing Cannabis Dispensaries Near My Home?

The sale and use of Recreational Cannabis is still illegal. Accordingly, and until April 1st, 2018, any marijuana dispensary that sells recreational cannabis is doing so illegally. 

I Currently Operate a Marijuana Dispensary. Can I Still Apply For a License Under the AGCO Regime?

The Province of Ontario has confirmed that operating, owning, or working at a cannabis dispensary in the past will not bar Applicants from acquiring a Cannabis Retail Store License.

However, and given that these dispensaries are still technically illegal, the Government has advised that all persons who are still operating dispensaries as of October 17th, 2018 will be permanently prohibited from acquiring a Cannabis Retail Store License.