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Ontario Reconsiders Window Coverings

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario is seeking feedback on two revisions to the province’s cannabis rules regarding window coverings and inducements.

Window Coverings

The first is a rule that says licensees must ensure that cannabis and accessories are not visible from the exterior of the premises.

The proposed change would remove this rule and result in the elimination of any provincial requirements related to visibility of cannabis or cannabis accessories from the exterior of the store—for instance window coverings.

Inducements

The second is a rule that says licensees may not provide cannabis or cannabis accessories free of charge, or as an inducement for the purchase of cannabis or a cannabis accessory.

The proposed change would no longer specifically prohibit retailers from offering loyalty programs based on sales or cannabis or accessories, free delivery related to a purchase amount, or other things or benefits in exchange for purchasing cannabis or accessories, assuming compliance with all other regulatory requirements. Retailers would continue to be prohibited from offering cannabis to patrons free of charge. All other existing requirements related to advertising and promotion would be maintained.

The AGCO is collecting feedback from relevant stakeholders until July 11 through its Engagement Portal.

Advocacy Group Supports Changes

Adam Vassos, President of the Retail Cannabis Council of Ontario (RCCO) and Senior Counsel & Founder of Vassos Law LLP says the RCCO is very much in support of changes to the window covering regulations. “We were part of letter writing campaigns and had submitted a white paper to anyone who would listen on removing window coverings,” he says. “We feel they are unnecessary and that the Cannabis Act is being interpreted very strictly.”

The RCCO has questioned whether a person viewing packaged cannabis from outside a cannabis store is the same as viewing it unpackaged and if that was the intention of the Cannabis Act.

“Licensed retail cannabis store owners are the only ones subject to this restriction,” Vassos adds. “Why can you see cannabis accessories like bongs in a corner convenience store where minors are permitted versus our stores where minors are not permitted and licensees are held to different standards. The standard should be consistent across all retail stores. Window coverings also create more stigma for cannabis stores.”

The RCCO is also in support of removing window coverings for safety reasons. “They pose safety hazards for stores, employees, and even customers,” Vassos says. “One of our board members had his store robbed while police were parked directly outside, but they couldn’t see inside and had no idea what was going on.”

With respect to inducements, Vassos believes the changes will help licensed retailers better compete with the grey market.

The RCCO is happy the AGCO is now reviewing these regulations and will be making a submission to the consultation.

Regulations in Other Provinces

In August 2022, after years of lobbying efforts by the Alberta Cannabis Council and many cannabis retailers operating through Alberta, and amid heightened concern for the health and safety of cannabis store employees after a rash of robberies, Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis rescinded window covering rules.

In May 2023, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch made the same changes in British Columbia. Retailers in Saskatchewan hope their province is next to make the change.

Cannabis Retail Training Program Proposals

The AGCO is also seeking proposals for cannabis retail training programs. Currently, the only approved training program is CannSell. Through this open call process, interested entities can apply for approval of their proposed cannabis training program in Ontario.

Up to two additional programs may be approved by the AGCO Board for a five-year term, beginning April 1, 2023. The call for proposals is open until September 1, 2023, and shortlisted applicants will be notified by the AGCO in November.

Tags: AGCO (57), cannabis regulation (10), Cannabis Retail (394), inducements (2), Ontario cannabis industry (12), Ontario Cannabis Store (76), window coverings (2)