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How to Get a Dispensary License in Canada

Knowing how to get a dispensary license in Canada requires looking up each province’s approach to retail.

Adam Drury

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How to Get a Dispensary License in Canada
Joshua Rainey Photography/ Shutterstock

Last week, Canada made history as the second country in the world to legalize cannabis for adults. And at the moment the demand for retail dispensaries is in excess of how many there are, presenting an opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to move into the cannabis space. If you’re looking to start your own cannabis business in Canada, there’s no time like the present to get started on the permit process. To help you out, here’s how to get a dispensary license in Canada, broken down by province.

The reason for the province-by-province breakdown is that despite the full implementation of the Cannabis Act nationwide, the development of the retail industry is highly uneven across the country. In some places, retail dispensaries opened their doors to the public the day cannabis became legal, on October 17. In others, however, retail storefronts won’t be available until next year. Under Canadian law, the authority to set up rules for cannabis retail and distribution falls to provincial governments. As a result, each province has its own regulatory framework and licensing process for non-medical cannabis retailers. So figuring out how to get a dispensary license in Canada means looking up the rules for each of its ten provinces. Don’t worry; we did that for you!

You Can’t Get a Dispensary License in Canada in Any of These Provinces

Many provinces in Canada are taking a slow, conservative approach to adult-use legalization. And in some places, that means keeping the retail market entirely in the hands of the provincial government. In other words, some provinces have banned private cannabis retailers from setting up shop. Instead, residents purchase their weed from a publicly-owned and/or government-run storefront, typically connected with the provincial liquor authority. Otherwise, they order it through an online marketplace.

So save yourself the trouble of figuring out how to get a dispensary license in Canada in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, or Prince Edward Island. You can’t. These provinces have all opted for a strict ban on private cannabis retailers, so there’s no opportunity to apply for a dispensary license. That’s four down. What about the other six?

You Can Get a Dispensary License in Canada in These Provinces—Eventually

Other provinces have given the green light to private retailers, but are nevertheless taking a conservative approach toward establishing that market. In these provinces, government regulators had already tapped certain producers, distributors and retailers for licenses prior to legalization. This gave companies the time to ensure compliance with provincial cannabis regulations, so they could begin sales as soon as legalization hit.

The downside, however, is that in these provinces, the private retail market is closed to any new businesses, at least for the immediate future.

Manitoba: Only Selected Companies Can Get a Dispensary License in Canada

To apply for a retail license with the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba, you have to be selected by the provincial government. So far, Manitoba has picked just four applicants. And in order to even be considered, you had to submit a business proposal in 2017 during the official request for proposals.

In July this year, Manitoba announced another request for proposals and pre-qualifications to expand retail opportunities. Officials called this “phase two” of their retail strategy. Unfortunately, if you didn’t make the cut this summer, you’ll have to wait for the next round.

Newfoundland and Labrador: A Mixed Approach to Retail Dispensaries

Newfoundland and Labrador is another province going with the mixed public and private model. Public stores will open where private retailers have expressed no interest, to help ensure everyone has access to retail cannabis storefronts.

Like Manitoba, however, the Newfoundland government has already awarded dispensary licenses to 24 private retail locations following a similar request-for-proposals process. The provincial government will exclusively control distribution, pricing and online sales at the outset.

There will, however, be further opportunities to apply for a dispensary license in Canada in Newfoundland. Applications will be available on the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation website. The application is extensive. Applicants have to disclose information about their financials, their associates, and their public records. They also have to provide detailed specs regarding store location and building plans, security protocols, inventory and budget plans. The NLC has also expressed an interest in applicants committed to socially responsible cannabis consumption, safety and security.

Saskatchewan: No New Dispensary Licenses for 18 Months

Prior to legalization, Saskatchewan, like Manitoba and Newfoundland, put out a call for cannabis business proposals. But provincial authorities in Saskatchewan knew exactly how many permits they were going to reward. They made 51 available. And all of those initial retail licenses have been awarded.

Unlike Manitoba and Newfoundland, however, Saskatchewan has no immediate plans for expanding private retail opportunities. Instead, the provincial government will consider whether to make additional licenses available in April, 2020—18 months after legalization. If you are interested in becoming a wholesaler, however, there are unlimited permits for that available.

Ontario: New Government, New Approach to Private Cannabis Dispensaries

If you were trying to figure out how to get a dispensary license in Canada earlier this year, you probably weren’t looking at Ontario. But after Ontario’s recent general election installed a new political majority, the province did a 180 on the issue of private cannabis retail. Initially, Ontario’s provincial cannabis regulations put the retail market entirely under the control of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). But when the Progressive Conservative party under Doug Ford seized a majority in June, they swiftly announced that private retail would be legal in Ontario.

Going forward, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will serve as the primary regulator for privately-run adult-use cannabis stores. But the legislation to allow private retail still needs to be enacted. And the AGCO still has to define the licensing process for private retailers. For those reasons, the ACGO is not accepting any dispensary applications at this time. But you can follow the commission online to stay updated on when applications will be available.

These Are The Only Two Provinces You Can Get a Dispensary License in Canada in Right Now

So from our initial ten provinces, we’re down to just two that are currently accepting applications for privately-run cannabis dispensaries. (We didn’t forget about the Territories; none of them have OK’d private retail.)

So if you want a dispensary license in Canada, you’d better head to Alberta or British Columbia, because those are the only places you can—at least right now. Here’s how to get a dispensary license in Canada in both of those provinces.

How to Get a Dispensary License in Canada in Alberta

Applying for a dispensary license in Alberta is a straightforward process. And the information you need is all clearly organized on the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission website. But fair warning, the application is 70 pages long. And before you begin working on it, Alberta recommends ensuring you meet the qualifications first.

These are the requirements all dispensary applicants must meet.

  • Submitting all applicants, associates and employees to a background check.
  • Paying fees: a $400 non-refundable application fee for each store, a $700 annual license fee, and a $3,000 deposit for background checks and other costs.
  • Municipal approval regarding licenses, location, land-use and zoning.
  • Business requirements that include incorporation in Alberta and a signed lease or title.
  • A long list of retail store requirements, including requirements for supply, hours, non-cannabis items, minors and intoxication.

Once you’ve got your ducks in a row, you can submit and pay for your application. ALGC says it takes about two to four months for review. The ALGC reviews applications in the order they receive them.

How to Get a Dispensary License in Canada in British Columbia

As in Alberta, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch of the Province of British Columbia is currently accepting applications for private, non-medical cannabis retail store licenses. You apply through an online portal. And B.C. has done a great job providing clear application guidelines and interactive tools to help prospective applicants through the entire process.

The website also provides weekly updates on the number and progress of applications B.C. regulators have received. Furthermore, the online portal creates step-by-step preparation guides tailored to your specific business plans.

The entire application process, as well as keeping your license, involves 12 steps. And the website provides links and resources to guide you every step of the way. Requirements are very similar to those in Alberta. But B.C. goes the extra step of providing you with guidance and requirements for operating your business as well as setting it up. So if you want to know how to get a dispensary license in Canada, really all you have to do is follow the instructions!

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