The number of retail stores authorized each month to legally sell cannabis in Ontario has doubled twice in the past five months under direction from the government.

The number of legal cannabis shops in Etobicoke is limited, leaving lots of room for the illegal market on Humber College campuses.

Only Lakeview Cannabis and Maryjane’s Cannabis have been authorized to open by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which reviews applications for Retail Store Authorizations in the province.

A brown brick building with signs that say Maryjane's Cannabis store

Maryjane’s Cannabis store is 8 km from campus (Ettinger Photo)

Samuel Gerges owns Maryjane’s Cannabis. He said the store opened in November at 418 The Westway after applying to the AGCO in early 2020.

“(The boom in cannabis retail outlets) hasn’t touched Etobicoke and other parts of the province as aggressively as it has downtown,” said Gerges adding Maryjane’s was the first legal storefront to open in the community.

Meanwhile, Vivianne Wilson, the founder of Greenport Cannabis at 686 College St, is contending with a “clustering of stores” near her location downtown. “We have around eight stores in Little Italy already,” she said.

Wilson blames a lack of transparency in the application process.

“I didn’t know other stores were coming around me until they opened,” Wilson said. She said the clusters of stores could have been avoided by regulating how close they could be to each other.

In contrast, George Smitherman, President and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada, said he is not concerned about multiple stores on the same block. “We don’t at the moment need to restrict that because we’re not at the saturation point,” he said.

Smitherman said it will be important to watch Alberta for signs of market saturation. “Alberta is the most advanced in the terms of having aggressively rolled out a model of cannabis retail that provides extremely convenient access,” he said.

“The stores that are more heavily funded will be able to withstand any downturn in the economy like we’re experiencing now,” Vivianne Wilson, Founder of Greenport Cannabis

Increase to 80 a month

In December, the government directed the AGCO to increase the number of Retail Store Authorizations allowed each month to 80. Previously the pace of Retail Store Authorizations a month was increased from 20 to 40 in September.

Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) Communications Manager Joanna Hui said increasing the number of retail locations selling products is key to combating the illegal market. OCS, the province’s legal online retailer and wholesaler for recreational use, said in A Quarterly Review that 63.8 per cent of cannabis was sourced illegally from July 1 to Sept. 30.

Ontario recreational cannabis market share by share: illegal (63.8 per cent) vs. legal (36.2 per cent).

The majority of cannabis was purchased illegally in Ontario between July and September 2020 (OCS graphic).

Hui said increasing the number of stores, improvements on pricing and the quality of OCS cannabis has contributed to gains in the legal share. “Combating the illegal market is certainly one of the primary objectives in our mandate,” she said.

Hui said OCS cannabis prices are “extremely competitive” with the illegal market. And she said the quality of products sold by OCS are better than the illegal market because products are tested and regulated by Health Canada.

OCS said in the quarterly review that 183 authorized stores were selling cannabis in Ontario on Sept. 30. In comparison, Hui said in January that there were more than 350.

Smitherman said there has been progress but admitted there is still a shortage of stores in the province.

“Some places are starting to see multiple cannabis shops in a neighbourhood, which creates a very dynamic, competitive environment that is good for consumers. On the other hand, where I am located, I still have to drive 30 km to access a retail environment,” he said.

Cannabis near North campus

There are 30 applications in progress and under public notice in Etobicoke on the AGCO website. Best Buds Forever and Corner Cannabis have applications in progress on Rexdale Boulevard near Humber College North campus.

Terps & Rec Cannabis is another store with an application in progress near North campus. An online petition, started by members of Rexdale James Masjid, has been signed by more than 9,000 people in opposition to the proposed cannabis store location.

At 127 Westmore Dr. Terps & Rec would be located in the same shopping plaza as the Rexdale James Masjid. Members of the Rexdale mosque updated their petition on Jan. 5 and said they filed an objection to the AGCO.

A large sign displays stores and offices in a shopping plaza.

A cannabis store has been proposed at 127 Westmore Dr. next to a Rexdale mosque (Ettinger Photo).

But while some want more restrictions on the location of cannabis stores, others, like University of Guelph-Humber student Kristopher Phillips said people need to stop looking at cannabis as “outlandish.”

Phillips also owns King’s Smoke Shop and General Store which operates a recreational and medical cannabis blog on Instagram. “Those who have an issue with where cannabis dispensaries are located need to look at where you are allowed to buy liquor, they need to look at where you are allowed to buy cigarettes,” he said.

Retail Store Authorizations are not granted by the AGCO if the shop is in a municipality that opted out of cannabis stores or if it is located near a school. In Ontario, a cannabis store cannot be located within 150 meters an elementary or secondary school.

There are no restrictions on the proximity to post-secondary institutions, but also there are zero cannabis stores within a one hour walk of Humber College North campus.