TORONTO — Ontario has announced the first 25 companies that can apply for cannabis retail licences in the province.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario says Tripsetter Inc., The Niagara Herbalist and Pure Alpha Holdings are among those that have been selected through a lottery.
The agency accepted expressions of interest for the licences earlier in the week, and received more than 17,000.
Of those, more than half came from sole proprietors hoping to open up shop, while a third came from corporations.
Licenses divided regionally
Those selected have five business days to turn in their applications along with a $6,000 non-refundable fee and a $50,000 letter of credit.
The licences are being divided regionally, with five going to the east of the province, seven in the west, two in the north, six in the Greater Toronto Area and five in Toronto itself.
Recreational cannabis can currently only be purchased legally in Ontario through a government-run website, with the first private stores set to open April 1.
The Progressive Conservative government had initially said it would not put a cap on the number of outlets, but later said it would begin with only 25 licences due to what it called serious cannabis supply issues that had to be addressed by the federal government.
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said Friday that she had confidence in the retail licensing process led by the AGCO, which extended a Wednesday afternoon application deadline by an hour after receiving a flurry of last-minute applications.
"I'm confident," Mulroney said. "A fairness monitor was overseeing the process. The people who wanted to apply, if they did so in the time frame, their application will be processed."
Working to address supply issues
The AGCO has said it can levy thousands in fines if applicants who get retail licences do not open their stores on time. Failing to sell pot by April 30, for example, would result in a $25,000 fine.
Mulroney stressed that the province will lift the cap on the number of stores in the province once the federal government addresses supply issues.
"Certainly, we need to see more stores in place across the province but given the national supply shortage and the amount of supply that we currently have, we believed that we need to do this in an equitable way," she said.
Critics have said Ontario's store cap will allow the black market to thrive, but Mulroney stressed that the government could not ask store operators to open with no guarantee of product supply.
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