On February 10, 2020, the Ontario government opened an online consultation aimed at improving choice and convenience for cannabis consumers, while enhancing the private sector’s ability to compete with and combat the illegal market. If implemented, proposed expanded business opportunities would facilitate the purchase and consumption of cannabis in specified social settings such as cafés, entertainment venues, festivals and other events.
The online consultation, posted on Ontario’s Regulatory Registry asks the public, businesses, health and other stakeholders to comment on the potential implementation of additional cannabis business opportunities in the future. Expanded business opportunities could include cannabis consumption establishments, such as lounges and cafés, as well as special occasion permits (SOPs) for events such as outdoor festivals and concerts. Currently, no other Canadian jurisdiction has implemented a framework for cannabis consumption establishments or SOPs.
The feedback form asks members of the public and stakeholders to consider whether cannabis should be sold for consumption in Ontario in establishments such as lounges and cafés, and what other products (such as cannabis accessories and/or food and beverage products that do not contain cannabis) should be sold at such venues. Participants are also asked whether the government should consider implementing a SOP program for the sale and service of cannabis at special events, similar to that which is administered by the AGCO for alcohol. Finally, participants are invited to consider the degree to which municipalities should be involved in developing potential frameworks concerning expanded business opportunities for cannabis.
The deadline for providing feedback, which will be used to inform next steps taken by the government, is March 10, 2020. The government will also meet with and consider the advice of key groups, including industry representatives, public health and safety organizations, education stakeholders and Indigenous representatives. No timeframe has been set for changes to the existing cannabis framework.
In a press release, Attorney General Doug Downey reiterated that the newly-launched consultation process is a part of the government’s responsible approach to cannabis retail sales, which prioritizes protecting families and communities while allowing private sector businesses to build a safe and convenient retail system to combat the illegal market.
As part of the online consultation process, stakeholders are invited to comment on whether there should be a municipal role in developing a framework for cannabis consumption establishments and SOPs. Discussions regarding the zoning, permitting, licensing, regulating, inspecting/enforcement, and taxing of cannabis have already occurred in a number of municipal Councils. Given that cannabis consumption establishments and SOPs are not currently permitted, there will likely be significant discussion about these issues at provincial municipal associations and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). In particular, the larger municipalities are expected to be proactive on this issue.
This is an opportunity for businesses to consider what type of involvement they would like in the cannabis 2.0 economy. It represents a new market segment for retailers to pursue, whether that be large pre-existing chains or independently owned businesses. Depending on the model and framework(s) that the government implements, this would aid in their mission in combatting the illicit market as this would increase points of use and potentially access.