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Ontario is more than tripling the number of cannabis retail store licenses being made available to First Nations in the province, Cannabis Professional has learned.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will be authorized to issue as many as 26 permits for proposed locations on First Nations territory, according to a senior provincial government source. Ontario allowed just eight First Nations cannabis retail store applications to proceed in August on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Amended AGCO regulations increasing the First Nations limit from eight to 26 will take effect Tuesday morning, said the source, who Cannabis Professional agreed not to identify by name as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. AGCO officials did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.

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“We set aside eight for first nations, thinking that was the demand, and then we got 26 applications so we are essentially going to increase the number of First Nations licenses to 26 so that anyone that applied in the First Nations category will be eligible to apply for a license, subject to local Band Council approval,” the source said.

Dozens of locally-sanctioned cannabis stores are already operating on First Nations land across Ontario, in some cases for several years. In August, representatives from the following communities were invited to apply for one of the first eight licences: Shawanaga, Wikwemikong, Chapleau Cree, Wahgoshig, Couchiching, Nipissing, Mississauga and Serpent River.

In addition to those eight, 18 applications currently on an AGCO waiting list will also be allowed to proceed, the source said. Those applications will still be subject to local Band Council approval, the source said, noting some jurisdictions may choose not to authorize all the locations proposed within their boundaries.

eNipissing First Nation, for example, is the proposed location for five of the 18 wait-listed applications. Ontario has so far issued 25 cannabis store licenses across the province and is reviewing another 42 applications submitted via lottery, though a different process has been applied to applicants hoping to locate their stores on First Nations land.

“This wasn’t quite like the lottery, there was a very fixed window and there was only expected to be eight applying, but it just turned out that in the first day or two there were 26 and that was all that ever came along,” the source said.

No official data exists on the total number of cannabis stores already operating on First Nations land within the province. However, some estimates say the number is well over 100.

In Tyendinaga alone, a single territory north of Kingston, more than 50 cannabis stores have been establish. More than a dozen cannabis stores dot what has since been dubbed the “green mile” in Alderville, a First Nations community near Peterborough that, despite its substantial marijuana economy, covers just a single square mile.

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