TORONTO -- The Ontario government has announced steps to allow more cannabis retail stores to open in January.

In a news release issued Thursday, Attorney General Doug Downey said that opening the cannabis market in Ontario as “responsibly” as possible has always been the government’s “number one priority.”

“We have said all along that opening more legal stores is the most effective way to combat the illicit market, protect our kids and keep our communities safe.”

In order to achieve these goals, the government said that it will eliminate the temporary cap on the number of private stores and cancel the pre-qualification requirements for prospective retailers.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) said it will begin accepting applications under the new guidelines on Jan. 6 followed by store authorization applications on Mar. 2.

"Store applications from this open application process are expected to be issued beginning in April, at an initial rate of approximately 20 [stores] per month," the release reads.

Retail operators would be allowed to own a maximum of 30 cannabis stores in 2020, increasing to a total of 75 by Sept. 2021.

The changes also affect licensed producers (LP) in the cannabis sector. LP's will now be able to open up a storefront at one of their facilities. 

Under the new rules, retailers will also be permitted to sell cannabis-related items like magazines and cookbooks.


Cannabis activists excited by open market

The lottery system implemented by the Ford government was no stranger to criticism. In the first year of legalization, only 24 legal cannabis stores opened their doors which cannabis activists said was frustrating.

"It’s been kind of impossible to get a license because of the lottery," The Friendly Stranger founder Robin Ellins said, speaking to CP24.

"It really was a lottery and those ‘winners’ are real winners of a lottery."


Downey addressed the criticism over the lottery system earlier today speaking to CP24.

"We wanted to go at a pace so that we could actually make sure the supply was there and that was part of the constraint," Downey said.

"Now that the federal supply has been solved, that issue, we’re now in a position to go much wider and faster."

And that's welcomed news to Ellins who said an open market in the province is "long overdue".

"I think it’s great that people who have been in the industry for the last 25 years may actually get a chance to open licensed establishments and bring our extensive knowledge and expertise to market."