The cannabis industry is seizing upon the cracks that have emerged in Ontario’s previous plan for selling legalized marijuana, in some cases offering to help lay the groundwork for private-sector retail.
On Wednesday, the launch of a new “one-stop shop” for companies looking to learn from a team of experts in retailing marijuana was announced. Among representatives from several other organizations, the Crowns Retail Council includes participation from law firm Norton Rose Fulbright and the co-founder of housewares-design company Umbra. It is also led by Crowns Creative, a cannabis-focused advertising agency.
In making the announcement, Crowns highlighted the “massive” size of the Ontario market, in addition to private retail opportunities expected for companies in provinces such as Alberta and Manitoba.
“Crowns Retail Council will help cannabis companies seize this historic moment and create brands and retail experiences that will capture the Ontario consumer’s imagination from the moment they open their doors,” said Rebecca Brown, founder and CEO of Crowns Creative, in a release.
The council will also offer the expertise of Cannabis Compliance Inc., a consulting firm for the marijuana industry.
“Our retail team at CCI looks forward to assisting retail applicants that wish to submit applications in Ontario and across Canada,” said Deepak Anand, vice-president of business development and government relations at Cannabis Compliance Inc., in a release. “We have had an extremely successful track record of approvals in other provinces that have allowed for applications to be submitted from private retail stores for the sale of non-medical cannabis.”
The council is making its debut as the cannabis industry awaits news from the Ontario government, which had previously been on track to sell legal weed through a series of provincially owned shops and an online retail channel. However, reports late last month indicated that the province’s new Progressive Conservative government could permit private retailers to sell legalized cannabis.
Premier Doug Ford passed Tuesday on discussing the subject. During an event in Picton, Ont. to herald the return of “buck-a-beer,” Ford told reporters that “we’re talking about beer today, marijuana might be in a couple weeks, or a week.”
Yet in the absence of any announcement, some cannabis companies have taken to lobbying the new provincial government.
Ontario’s lobbyist registry shows Navigator Ltd. was tapped by leading pot producer Aurora Cannabis Inc., as well as 420 Clinic, Weedmaps and the Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada, to “highlight the benefits of expanding cannabis sales in Ontario to private retail outlets.”
The move could underscore the importance of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, to the marijuana industry. It also allows for the possibility that Ontario’s plan for pot sales may not be finalized — only weeks away from the federal government’s Oct. 17 date for the legalization of recreational cannabis.
Even without a formal announcement from Ford, retailers may want to move fast to secure their position in what could be a competitive market in Ontario, or any other province with private-sector sales.
“The pressure is on those retailers to create extremely specific, considerate and delightful brand-immersive experiences,” Brown said in an interview with the Financial Post.
Anand said his company had already been contacted by close to a couple of hundred people expressing interest in retail licensing in Ontario and making applications with CCI.
“Obviously, we’ve been telling them we need to wait until we understand what that process is and what it even looks like but … there’s going to be a massive rush,” Anand said.
Meanwhile, the head of licensed producer Hydropothecary Corp., which recently revealed it is teaming up with Molson Coors Canada on a joint venture for cannabis-infused beverages, said in a July 27 press release that they had “been anticipating the Ontario government’s potential move towards retail cannabis in Ontario,” and accordingly made a $10-million investment in retail cannabis store Fire & Flower.
And while it is apparently focused on medical cannabis, Beleave Inc. said on Tuesday that it would open two new stores under its Medi-Green brand in September, one of which is to be located in London, Ont.
“We have aggressive plans for expanding the Medi-Green brand and these two new stores are just the beginning,” said Beleave CEO, Andrew Wnek, in a press release.
Other companies could need more convincing before they officially jump into the Ontario market — but they are likely keeping tabs on the situation.
Coffee chain Second Cup Ltd. — which has partnered with National Access Cannabis Corp. on a plan to operate recreational marijuana dispensaries in Western Canada at first, and then potentially other provinces later — said in a recent financial filing that it was awaiting a “formal announcement” from the Ontario government.
“At that time, the Company will be able to assess the potential implications to its strategic alliance with NAC.”