Small Brands Gambling Big on Ontario’s Retail Cannabis Lottery

Today is the day that those seeking a cannabis Retail Operator License in Ontario will be one step closer to their goal. Applicants from all across the province have submitted their Expression of Interest Application to the Alcohol and Gaming Commision of Ontario (ACGO) and await the lottery results. Businesses looking forward to the April 1st opening of cannabis retail stores in Ontario, still have a long road ahead of them, but those with existing brands will be able to take a shortcut.

Cannabis Retail Process

Provinces such as Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have already moved ahead with a private model for retail storefronts and after Ford’s promises, Ontario is about to do the same. The application window, which was open from January 7 - 9, allowed only one Expression of Interest application per applicant, but they could list up to five municipalities in which they intend to open stores.


The lottery draw, which takes place today, doesn’t guarantee that winners will be eligible to open a cannabis retail store in April. Those selected can apply for Retail Operator Licences, which they’ll receive after a “full due diligence process” has been conducted by the ACGO.

The ACGO is going to make sure that lottery winners are qualified before they grant their license. When their name is picked they must be able to be qualified as well. You have to be over 19 and meet all of the other qualifications, which can be found on the AGCO website.

Opportunity for Small Businesses

Remember when the LCBO paid advertising agency Leo Burnett about $650,000 for all branding related to the Ontario Cannabis Store a little less than a year ago?


Well, it will cost a lot less for others looking to venture into the cannabis retail industry in Ontario who have applied for the lottery. It only cost a $75 fee to submit an application, but those selected through the lottery will have five business days to turn in their application along with a $6,000 non-refundable fee and a $50,000 letter of credit.

Shortcut for Established Brands

There are a handful of businesses in Toronto who have already established their brand and its association with cannabis. If they receive their cannabis Retail Operator License, they’ll have a leg-up on the competition because of the brand recognition they already have. Some of these businesses who hope to hit the ground running include CAFE, Friendly Stranger, Hotbox and Tokyo Smoke.


At CAFE, they’ve made it their goal to cultivate meaningful experiences with everyone who visits one of their locations. They currently have three locations in downtown Toronto, where they serve all the coffee shop staples, as well as cannabis flowers, edibles and concentrates for those who have a medicinal marijuana prescription. Resembling the popular cafes of Amsterdam, CAFE has built quite the following over the last two years, by promoting the health and happiness of their communities.


Friendly Stranger

Established in 1994, Friendly Stranger has been selling cannabis paraphernalia from their Queen West location for over two decades. They've built their business by providing best-in-class service, matched with quality products and excellent prices. With friendly and helpful employees and one of the largest selections of cannabis accessories in Toronto, the Friendly Stranger is looking to add cannabis to their product offering.



Located in the heart of Toronto’s Kensington Market, Hotbox is a place where people can find all types of cannabis accessories. They also promote a cannabis-friendly atmosphere, where every Wednesday to Sunday night there are events that are sure to entertain you and your buds. While they’re currently selling everything but the cannabis itself, Hotbox hopes to change this by securing one of the cannabis Retail Operator Licenses.


Tokyo Smoke

Tokyo Smoke is an award-winning, design-focused brand that seamlessly blends the best of cannabis with preeminent retail. They’re ushering in a new era with an elevated and immersive retail experience featuring our signature collection of accessories and line of recreational cannabis. With four cannabis retail stores already operating in Manitoba, they’ll be trying to turn one of their five coffee shop locations in Toronto into a cannabis retail space.


Golden Opportunity

Human beings are creatures of habit. Once we’ve established something as part of our routine, it usually sticks. This lottery presents businesses with the very first opportunity in Ontario to make their brand of cannabis retail the popular consumer choice. Even though there will be more cannabis retail brands entering the market eventually, as long as the customer experience is enjoyable, small brands will be able to make their impression this spring. Which small business brand are you rooting for in today’s lottery and why? Let us know in the comment section below.



Article By:

Cody Hicks

Digital marketing specialist and freelance contributor.

Cody HicksComment