CANADIAN CANNABIS LEGALIZATION: how it’s played out in Ontario

The federal government legalized cannabis for recreational use under the Cannabis Act exactly four years ago to this day.

Here is a timeline of what has happened in Ontario since recreational marijuana was legalized in Canada.

When the Cannabis Act was first passed, Ontarians who were 19 years of age and older were allowed to hold up to 30 grams of legal cannabis in public, buy cannabis from a provincially-licensed retailer, and households could grow up to four cannabis plants for their own personal consumption. They could also make their own cannabis products at home.

At this point in time, Ontarians could only purchase cannabis from the province’s sole legal online retailer, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).

“In the first 24 hours of operation, the OCS online store received over 1.3 million unique visits,” a news release from Oct. 19, 2018, reads. “During this same period, the OCS received approximately 100,000 orders from customers, with 12,000 of those orders being received in the first hour after legalization.”

The demand for cannabis right when it was legalized was so high, it was estimated that Canadian cannabis websites were processing about 100 orders per minute.

In just over a week after recreational marijuana was legalized, OCS warned customers delivery times for orders may be longer than anticipated due to the unprecedented demand and the rotating strikes at Canada Post.

The Ontario government announced it would take a ‘phased approach’ with cannabis retail stores, and decided only 25 cannabis retail stores could open in the province on Apr. 1, 2019.

“It is the federal government’s responsibility to oversee cannabis production and to provide a viable alternative to the illegal market by ensuring there is sufficient supply to meet consumer demand,“ Ministers Vic Fedeli and Caroline Mulroney said in a written statement.

Ontario also said it would be implementing a lottery system through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which would determine which businesses are eligible to operate a store legally.

Ontario municipalities had until Jan. 22 to tell the AGCO if they wished to opt-out of hosting cannabis retail stores in the area.

Several cities and municipalities decided to opt-out, including Mississauga, Vaughan, Oakville, Richmond Hill, and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

APRIL 2019
Hunny Pot, the first legal cannabis store in the province, opened its doors on Queen Street West to Torontonian customers on Apr. 1.

The Canadian government deemed it legal to sell edible cannabis products and concentrates. This meant Ontarians could now buy cannabis-infused products from cookies to chocolate, or purchase concentrates like shatter, which typically has a higher THC percentage.

The AGCO held its second cannabis lottery on Aug. 20, and 42 new stores met the pre-qualification requirements. Over 4,800 eligible retailers expressed interest in the lottery at that time.

In December 2019, the Ontario government announced it would scrap the lottery system for cannabis shop permits to open up the market to more retailers.

Under these new guidelines, applications for prospective owners opened on Jan. 6, 2020, followed by store authorization applications on Mar. 2, 2020.

“Store authorizations from this open application process are expected to be issued beginning in April, at an initial rate of approximately 20 [stores] per month,” a news release read.

APRIL 2020
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, AGCO-authorized cannabis retail stores were forced to close in-person and click-and-collect services.

On Apr. 7, AGCO permitted cannabis stores to offer delivery and curbside pick-up services to customers.

JULY 2020
Delivery and curbside pick-up services stopped as of 11:59 p.m. on July 23, though retailers could still continue to offer ‘click and collect’ orders for their customers. This would allow customers to pick up their purchases in-store.

Up until Aug. 31, retailers were allowed to own up to 10 cannabis stores. The number would increase to 30 in September 2020, and then up to 75 in September 2021.

On Nov. 28, the AGCO authorized the 250th cannabis store to open in the province.

“To date, the AGCO has issued 279 RSAs and 250 authorized cannabis retail stores are currently open in Ontario,” a news release read.

“The government has provided further direction to double the pace of store authorizations once again, from 40 to 80 per month,” the AGCO said in a news release. The number of Retail Store Authorizations (RSAs) was previously doubled in September from 20 to 40.

The AGCO confirmed to CTV News Toronto the provincial legislation does not impose a limit or cap on how many stores can be in one area.

“However, the proposed store locations must be compliant with the provincial school distance buffer, which is a minimum distance of 150 meters between cannabis retail stores and schools, as defined in the Education Act, including public schools, private, and federally-funded First Nation schools off-reserve. Beyond that, the AGCO has no authority or control over store locations,” a spokesperson for the AGCO wrote.

Over 1,000 authorized cannabis retailers open across Ontario.

MARCH 2022
The AGCO made delivery and curbside pick-up services permanent as of Mar. 15, 2022.

Health Canada announced it will be launching its long-awaited review of the Cannabis Act, and the impact it has had on public health, youth consumption, Indigenous peoples and communities, and the ability to grow cannabis at home.

The results of the review are expected to be reported in both Houses of Parliament no later than 18 months after the start of the review.

As of Oct. 17, Torontonians looking to order cannabis to their homes can now do so through Uber Eats. Beforehand, Uber Eats users were able to order cannabis products for pickup at Tokyo Smoke since November 2021.

Currently, there are 1,577 stores in the province.

How is Canada cannabis legalization going? Feds launch overdue review to find out

CTV News Toronto Multi-Platform Writer. With files from The Canadian Press, and CP24’s Bryann Aguilar and Joshua Freeman

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