With upwards of 1,000 cannabis storefronts expected to open across Ontario in 2019, prospective retailers are eagerly awaiting more details on application requirements from the province. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, as the only licensing authority for bricks-and-mortar sale of recreational cannabis, has been hosting a series of online presentations designed to provide as much information as possible. While the AGCO is still working out many of the details, the provincial government agency said in its latest presentation on Tuesday it remains “hopeful” applications will begin to be accepted as of Dec. 17. In the meantime, Cannabis Professional has a summary of the AGCO’s answers to some of the most important questions being raised by aspiring applicants below.
HOW CAN I APPLY?
All applications must be submitted online via the “iAGCO” portal. Regardless of whether you are applying for a retail operator license, a retail store authorization or a cannabis retail manager license, no paper forms will be accepted. While the application process remains on track to begin Dec. 17, AGCO officials used the word “hopeful” in Tuesday’s presentation in reference to that date.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE INCLUDED?
Not all of the following will be required in order to submit the application, though AGCO officials warn any incomplete applications could take longer to process. The agency says it “would be handy” to have the following elements ready to go: constituting documents; a schematic diagram laying out a complete corporate structure including references to parent companies and/or subsidiaries; details of shareholders; at least one year’s worth of financial statements; either a tax return or a tax assessment and a personal history/disclosure form from whomever is submitting the application. The AGCO also requires a specific “Tax Compliance Verification Number” that can be obtained from the Ontario Ministry of Finance as of Dec. 1.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
Every applicant must obtain a Retail Operator License at a cost of $6,000 for a two-year period. The operator license can cover up to 75 individual storefronts, though each location will require a Retail Store Authorization at a cost of $4,000 - also for a two-year period. Sole proprietors will only be required to obtain those two licenses, but anyone hired in a management position at a cannabis retail outlet will be required to obtain a Cannabis Retail Manager License at a cost of $750 for two years. Maintaining an Operator License, Store Authorization or Retail Manager License will cost $2,000, $3,500 and $500 respectively every two years, or every four years for those willing to pay double.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I APPLY TO OPEN A STORE IN A MUNICIPALITY THAT CHOOSES TO OPT OUT OF CANNABIS RETAIL?
Municipalities have until Jan. 22, 2019, to decide whether to prevent any cannabis retail stores from opening within their boundaries, and since that is more than a month after the AGCO is planning to start accepting retail applications, this is an especially common question for aspiring retailers. While the AGCO intends to publish a searchable list of cities that have either opted in or out on its website, applications are strongly encouraged to simply check with their local municipality about any plans to opt in or out before submitting an application. All retail store authorization applications will also be posted to and searchable on the AGCO website.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED A “STANDALONE” STORE?
Initial regulations released by the province mentioned a specific need for cannabis stores to be “standalone” without providing much in the way of a definition. That led some to speculate wildly on whether any store that shares walls with another location could be disqualified. Jeff Longhurst, director of licensing and registration at the AGCO, said the agency will define standalone stores this way: “If you can envision a grocery store with a Starbucks inside the grocery store, that Starbucks is not a standalone store. A standalone store requires it to be surrounded by walls and have its own dedicated entrance and exit. You cannot walk through an existing business or commercial enterprise to get to this store, you have to be able to access it independently, not including those in a common area such as an enclosed shopping mall.”
WILL ANY SPECIFIC STAFF TRAINING BE REQUIRED?
Yes. Similar to how alcohol retailers and servers in Ontario must undergo Smart Serve training, anyone working in a cannabis retail store in Ontario will be required to complete an AGCO board-approved training program. “That training program doesn’t exist yet,” said Brent McCurdy, director of strategic policy and planning at the AGCO, “but we are targeting well before these stores are about to open in April to have that launched so people can get certified before they work because that will be a requirement that they be certified before their first day. We are envisioning it will cover topics such as basic cannabis knowledge and social responsibility related to the sale of cannabis.” Matt Maurer, vice-chair of the cannabis law group at Torkin Manes LLP, believes that program will be up and running by February of 2019.
HOW WILL THE PUBLIC NOTICE PROCESS WORK?
Applicants will be required to post a public notice – an example of which can be seen below – for 15 calendar days at the proposed retail store location in a place where anyone can read it without having to enter the premises (think: front window). Residents of that municipality, or the municipality itself, will have until the end of that 15-day period to provide written submissions to the AGCO. Submissions must be related to one of three topics: public health and safety, preventing youth access to cannabis and/or preventing cannabis-related criminal activities. Copies of every submission, which cannot be submitted anonymously, will then be provided to the applicant who will then have five calendar days to respond. The AGCO will then make a final decision on whether to issue a retail store authorization or not. That decision can only be appealed via a formal court challenge by making a request for judicial review.