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Updates to Ontario’s cannabis legalization and the licensing framework

by Municipal World
in Economic Development, Planning

With recent legislation passed on the legalization of cannabis, municipalities across Canada are facing difficult decisions, mostly around the health and safety of their communities and residents.

At the 2019 Rural Ontario Municipal Association Conference in Toronto, representatives from the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) addressed some of these concerns and provided up-to-date information on cannabis legalization and implementation in Ontario:

Licence Allocation

Effective December 2018 to December 13, 2019, municipalities with a population of 50,000+ are now permitted to sell cannabis. Due to a national shortage supply of legal cannabis, there is a temporary change to how legal cannabis retail stores are allocated. While supplies stabilize, under the Cannabis Licence Act, 2018, the Government of Ontario provided AGCO with the authority to administer a maximum of up to 25 stores for April 1, 2019 in way of a lottery. (To learn more about AGCO’s lottery, visit

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Enforcement (Designation Process)

Under the Cannabis Control Act, 2017, the powers of a police officer described in the Act now extend to additional officers so they can respond to the concerns from enforcement and municipal stakeholders when police may not have the capacity to enforce the rules. Since coming into force, police and additional officers have laid 224 charges related to illegal selling of cannabis.

Enforcement (Illegal Selling)

Since October 2018, there has been a significant reduction in the number of illegal storefronts in Ontario: 57 percent across municipalities and 48 percent province wide. To help fight unsafe and illegal supply, the province established a Cannabis Intelligence Coordination Centre to support enforcement agencies shut down illegal storefronts.

Enforcement (Impaired Driving)

In addition to the higher financial penalties that were introduced in January, impaired driving detection training has been expanded. The Ontario Police College is now leading a coordination of standard field sobriety testing (of which 3,762 officers have completed training) and drug expert training (of which 349 officers have completed training).

Cannabis Youth Diversion Program

Launching soon, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services will be providing an online youth education program for youth under 19, referring them to cannabis prevention and education programs.

Municipal Funding

The province is providing $40 million in funding over two years to help municipalities combat the illegal market, as well as with associated costs of recreational cannabis legalization. The first $15 million will be distributed on a per household basis (adjusted so that each municipality receives at least $5,000). The second $15 million will be distributed by the end of February after the January 22 deadline for opting out of the Cannabis Licence Act, 2018. Municipalities that did not opt out will receive funding on a per household basis (adjusted so that at least $5,000 is provided to each municipality). Municipalities that have opted out will receive only a second $5,000 each and will not be eligible for further funding regardless of any future decision to opt in.

Municipal Opt-Out Status

Out of 414 single- and lower-tier municipalities, 77 have opted out as of the January 22, 2019 deadline. Out of the 42 municipalities with populations over 50,000 (the requirement for applying to host one of the 25 retail stores), 11 have opted out. (For more information, visit

Edibles, Extracts, Topicals

With respect to three new classes of cannabis, December 2018 draft regulations are in motion to expand or add new requirements regarding licensing, production practices, and much more. Municipalities can also provide direct input into this process by participating in an online survey. (For more information on how to participate, visit

Types of Licences and Authorisations

The AGCO has introduced three licences and authorizations to help ensure the responsible sale of cannabis: Retail Operator Licence (for people and/or organizations who operate retail stores); Retail Store Authorization (application required to operate a physical storefront – each store must have its own authorization); and Cannabis Retail Manager Licence (for people who have management responsibilities).

More than ever, there is a need to measure and evaluate this approach to cannabis legalization and to understand the needs of municipalities during this process. The Ministry of the Attorney General, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, and the Ontario Cannabis Store will continue to work together (as well as with municipal partners, police services, First Nations communities, and other key stakeholders) to monitor retail implementation and to ensure a safe and conscientious rollout.  MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Ajay Gajaria’s article: How the legalization of recreational cannabis use will affect Canada’s municipalities. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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