How prepared is Ontario for legalization of marijuana?

Twitter icon

As Canada’s provinces get ready for the advent of legal recreational pot, many questions remain about Ontario’s plans to sell cannabis through a subsidiary of the LCBO. But there are no quick answers from the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp., which is responsible for both online sales and stores.

While Alberta’s premier says that province’s privately run stores will be ready and waiting for legalization, and New Brunswick’s provincial cannabis authority recently gave a tour of a store, Ontario is plodding along carefully and keeping a tight lid on information.

The province initially said 40 stores would open in July, when the federal government originally expected marijuana to be legal across the country. Now the date appears more likely to be in August or September. And it’s not clear when the Ontario Cannabis Store locations will open.

George Soleas, chief executive of the LCBO, said in a recent interview that “sometime in September you’ll see an online presence for cannabis as well as some of the stores are going to be rolling out then.” But in his interview with the Kingston Whig-Standard, he was not referring to when stores and online sales would be ready, but rather to when he expected legalization to happen, according to public relations staff at the LCBO.

LCBO has revealed the name for its pot shops… Ontario Cannabis Store. This is the official logo. 

Soleas did not make himself available for an interview for this report.

So when will stores be ready? The LCBO declined to answer, instead providing this statement: “The opening dates for retail locations and the online channel will be shared once additional direction has been provided by the federal government about when legalization will come into effect across Canada.”

The statement also suggested that all 40 stores won’t open immediately. “Ontario’s plan is to open 40 stores in 2018,” it said. Does that mean openings will be staggered until the end of 2018? The LCBO declined to clarify, instead offering a variation of the same statement: “The OCS will have more information on our openings in the near future.”

The information vacuum is being filled with speculation by industry insiders. Trina Fraser, an Ottawa business lawyer who advises cannabis firms, says she assumes the federal government is in close contact with the provinces, and will make sure the federal law legalizing pot doesn’t go into effect until they are all ready to sell.

Otherwise, the federal government would have to ensure cannabis was for sale online in any province that wasn’t ready. That would be complicated, as licensed medical marijuana growers would have to figure out a way to sell online to recreational consumers, too, she said.

As for when marijuana will be legal, best guesses put it at late August or early September.

The Cannabis Act, Bill C-45, was passed by the Senate with more than 40 amendments, but some of those were rejected by the House, so the bill is now back in  the Senate. There may be some political ping-pong between the two houses of Parliament. The Commons is scheduled to end its session on June 22 for summer break.

The law won’t go into effect until two to three months after it is passed, to give provinces and cannabis producers time to get ready. So even if the bill receives royal assent by June 22, that would push the timeline for pot sales into late August at the earliest.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he want the law in place this summer, while Bill Blair, the MP who is the point man on the cannabis file, told CTV that if the bill passes this week, marijuana could be on sale in early to mid-September.

As for where stores will be located, little is known about that, either.

The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp. announced there will be stores in 29 communities to start, and in April released four proposed locations for public comment. One Toronto location was criticized because it was within a kilometre of a school. No Ottawa locations have been announced.

More stores will be added later. The government has promised 80 stores by July 2019 and 150 stores by 2020.

There hasn’t been much information released about the design of the stores. Customers will be asked for ID in a reception area, and only those 19 and over will be allowed into the retail part of the store. Products will not be displayed on shelves, but kept behind the counter, similar to the way cigarettes are sold.

There will be digital “screens” for customers to research products, and Ottawa’s Shopify will provide the e-commerce platform for the stores and online sales.

A look inside a New Brunswick cannabis shop

Like Ontario, New Brunswick has chosen to sell cannabis through a subsidiary of its provincial liquor authority. But unlike Ontario, New Brunswick has announced made promoting the fledgling cannabis industry a key part of its economic development strategy in the province.

Cannabis NB has 11 stores ready, and officials say another nine outlets will be complete by September. Officials offered a tour inside a Saint John store recently. It might provide some clues about what we can expect in Ontario.

Cannabis NB offered a tour of a store that is ready to roll in Saint John. 

The outside of the stores are deliberately nondescript, CEO Brian Harriman told a Toronto cannabis conference last month. “No bongs, no flashing lights.” Inside, the decor is simple and modern.

Tablets will be sprinkled throughout for customers to research the 200 products on sale initially. When edible products and cannabis concentrates are approved for sale later, the number of products will jump to 700, said Harriman.

An artist conception of the reception area of Cannabis NB stores, where customers will be asked for ID and have a chance to do some product research on tablets.

Posters on the wall of the Saint John store reflect three products categories — Discover, Connect and Refresh. They were created to help give customers an idea of which types of cannabis would best suit various activities, said Cannabis NB spokesman Mark Barbour. He said he’s not sure if Health Canada will allow that type of display.

Stores are setting up across the country in the absence of clear guidelines on where the line will be drawn between information and promotion.

“We may be completely offside, and have to take it down and hit reset.”

The Cannabis Act now before Parliament allows “informational” promotions in places where minors aren’t allowed — such as stores — but forbids lifestyle advertising that connects cannabis to “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.” Clarification may come in regulations that will arrive when the law is passed.

“Guides” in the stores will help customers decide on their purchase and ring in sales. It’s similar to a jewelry store, Harriman explained, where customers don’t expect to pick up an engagement ring and take it to the cash themselves.

Cannabis NB hired Canopy Growth Corp. of Smiths Falls to help provide staff with 100 hours of training on products, customer service and social responsibility.

A Cannabis NB store in Saint John is typical of the 20 stores planned for the province. 

Staff will probably spend longer with customers, especially novice users, than they would for a typical liquor sale, said Harriman. The average beer shopper in New Brunswick is in and out of the store in two minutes, he said. In contrast, data from some stores in Colorado after marijuana was legalized there indicated the average customer spent 17 minutes making a purchase.

The New Brunswick stores will be around 3,000 square feet, with 2,500 sq. ft. devoted to retail space, said Harriman.

That is similar to what is planned in Ontario, where stores will be around 2,500 square feet, according to the LCBO. To put that in perspective, there are about 30 LCBO liquor outlets in Ottawa, and their average size is 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. The smallest LCBO, at St. Laurent Shopping Centre, is 2,200 square feet.

New Brunswick has supported the development of a cannabis industry as good for economic development. The province will have 11 stores ready by July, and a total of 20 by September, according to Cannabis NB.

e-mail icon Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Reddit icon
Rate this article: 
Regional Marijuana News: