5 questions for Vic Fedeli about Ontario's pot shop lottery

The finance minister spoke with Metro Morning about the rationale behind Ontario's cannabis retail licence lottery — and what they'll do if they pull someone who doesn't meet the province's qualifications.

There’s a week to go before a draw to award the first 25 cannabis retail licences

Vic Fedeli spoke with Metro Morning about why his government decided to choose Ontario's first 25 pot shops using a lottery system. (Radio-Canada)

Prospective pot shop owners around the province are hoping Friday is their lucky day.

That's the day that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will hold a draw to determine who gets the first 25 cannabis retail licences.

People can submit expressions of interest beginning on Monday for a $75 fee. Those selected through the lottery will then have five business days to turn in their application along with a $6,000 non-refundable fee and a $50,000 letter of credit.

A week out from the draw, larger questions remain about the system's impact on Ontario's black market, how the new stores will be spread across the province, and what kinds of candidates will end up winning out. 

To get some clarity, Metro Morning host Matt Galloway spoke with provincial Finance Minister Vic Fedeli. 

Questions and answers have been edited and condensed.

Matt Galloway: Why will there only be 25 stores selling legal cannabis in this province come April?

Vic Fedeli: Prime Minister Trudeau said the biggest challenge with legalization has been their own supply shortage. That is just a plain fact. We looked at how many stores could we possibly bring cannabis supply in for, and the number is 25.

That's why we've gone back to the federal government and told them, review your approval process, we need more product. You legalized this on October 17 and didn't have the amount of product able to satisfy the demand.

MG: The private retail model was meant to curb or eliminate the black market. People are still going to want to buy weed. For people who can't get to one of the 25 stores, do you worry that this will add fuel to that black market?

VF: We have the Ontario Cannabis Store online, so you can continue — as people do by the thousands — to purchase online every day.

You have to think about this as a brand new business. Cannabis was prohibited for more than 100 years. Now that prohibition is off we've only been in the business a couple of months.

We started with a cautious approach. We opened online first and said we'd open the retail stores once we saw what was out there.

Other provinces that jumped into it are now facing businesses that will have to close or businesses that actually are closing during the day and are suffering because of it.

Yes, we wanted to open more stores, but if there's no supply for them, how can you in good conscience open a store.

MG: Why are you deciding who gets to open the stores through a lottery?

VF: That's the fairest way to do it. No matter what you do, there are going to be people who are not going to be happy.

MG: Is there a risk of selecting candidates who have no retail experience, or no experience selling or managing cannabis?

VF: We've got the AGCO [Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario] who will do the licensing and we know they're going to give the retail operator licences to the most qualified people as well in that grouping that win. They'll make sure that these are qualified people before they grant their licence.

MG: But can you pick winners if it's a lottery?

VF: When their name is picked they must be able to be qualified as well. You have to be over 19, and all the other qualifications. You can find all the qualifications on the AGCO website.

With files from Metro Morning