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Where You Can – And Can’t – Get a Dispensary License in Canada

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As most already know, Canada became the second country in the world that has recreational marijuana-usage legalized. Currently, the country’s demand for dispensaries is high, leaving a void that entrepreneurs interested in the cannabis industry could easily fill. If you’ve considered launching a dispensary in Canada, it’d be a good idea to strike now while the iron’s hot.

In accordance with Canadian law, the authority to determine the rules and regulations for cannabis distribution and retail will belong to provincial governments. Each province has their own unique set of rules in place for the licensing process for non-medical dispensaries. But don’t worry; we’ll help walk you through all this confusion.

Provinces That Don’t Allow Privately-Owned Dispensaries

Several provinces in Canada want to go slow with the legalization process, while others want to keep the retail market exclusive to the provincial government, banning private cannabis retailers from opening shop. Residents in these areas will have to purchase their marijuana from a publicly-owned or government-run store, usually connected with each province’s liquor authority. They could also order it from an online marketplace.

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island all have chosen to implement a strict ban on privately-owned dispensaries. So don’t bother wasting your time applying for a dispensary license in those four provinces.

Provinces That Are Slowly Rolling Out Legalization

Some provinces chose a slower approach that would still allow them to begin sales right when legalization came into effect. They gave the go-ahead to a select few private retailers, getting them fully licensed prior to legalization. For the foreseeable future, however, the retail market in these provinces are closed to new businesses.


This province requires you to be selected by the provincial government in order to apply for a dispensary license with Manitoba’s Liquor, Gaming, and Cannabis Authority. To be considered, you had to submit a business proposal during the official request period in 2017. This July, however, Manitoba started taking proposals again, for a limited period of time, to expand their retail market. If you didn’t get approved during this “phase two” of licensing, you’ll have to wait until the next official request period starts.

Newfoundland and Labrador

This province is going with a mixed private and public model. They decided to open public stores to allow access where no private retailers expressed interest. They had a similar licensing process prior to legalization as Manitoba, offering periods of time in which they will accept proposals. They awarded 24 private retailers dispensary licenses. There will be more opportunities to apply for a dispensary license than in Manitoba, however. Applications can be found on the website of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation, but note, they are extensive. Applicants will be expected to provide the following information:

  • Financial information
  • Their public records
  • Their associates’ information
  • Detailed specs of store location
  • Store building plans
  • Security protocols
  • Inventory information
  • Budget plans

The NLC has special interest in applicants that are committed to cannabis security and safety and socially responsible consumption of the drug.


Like the previous two provinces we covered, Saskatchewan announced a call for cannabis business proposals, but set a firm cap at 51 licenses disbursed, all of which have been awarded. Unlike Newfoundland and Manitoba, however, Saskatchewan officials have no intent to expand the private retail opportunities any time soon. In the meantime, the provincial government will consider if they want to make more licenses available 18 months from now, in April 2020. Unlimited permits are available for wholesalers.


After Ontario’s recent general elections, the new government officials did a 180 on their cannabis policies. They initially planned for the retail market to be fully controlled by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), but new officials announced that they would be legalizing private retailers. They’re still working out the details for regulation and the legalities. Due to this, they aren’t yet accepting applications. However, you can use their website to stay updated on when they’ll accept applications.

Provinces That Are Currently Accepting New Applications

There are only two provinces currently issuing new licenses: Alberta and British Columbia.

Licensing Process in Alberta

Alberta has made their dispensary licensing process straightforward and simple. They’ve organized and laid out on the website for the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (ALGC). Despite the simplicity, the actual application is 70 pages long. Before you go through the process of filling all that out, however, Alberta officials recommend you ensure you meet all of the following required qualifications:

  • Submit all applicants, employees, and associates to a background check
  • Pay the $400 non-refundable application fee (per store), the $700 annual licensing fee, and a deposit of $3,000 for background checks and other costs
  • Municipal approval for licenses, store location, land use, and proper zoning
  • Incorporation in Alberta, a signed lease or title, and other business requirements
  • List of retail store requirements, including but not limited to requirements for supply, hours, minors, intoxication, and non-cannabis items

Once you’ve met all the requirements and submitted your applications and fees, it’ll take anywhere from two to four months for the ALGC to review it. They review them in the order in which they are received.

Licensing Process in British Columbia

The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch of the Province of British Columbia is accepting applications for privately-owned, non-medical dispensaries now. You can apply through their clear, user-friendly online portal. The entire process takes only 12 steps, through which the website guides you. The requirements in British Columbia are very similar to those in Alberta, but they went the extra mile to guide you through the requirements for operating your dispensary as well as getting everything set up.

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