An Ontario appellate judge ruled on Wednesday to dismiss a motion by a group of disqualified cannabis store applicants requesting the province’s retail cannabis licensing process be suspended pending an appeal being heard.
“The process that the government has decided on should be permitted to proceed. If the moving parties are ultimately successful, they may have a remedy, at the very least, in damages,” Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Ian Nordheimer said in his remarks dismissing the stay motion.
The ruling will now see the application process to open 42 new cannabis stores in Ontario continue, although the proper roll-out of these new shops is expected to be delayed for some time.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario said in a statement released shortly after the ruling that its "focus remains on moving through the lottery and licensing process as quickly as possible while continuing to apply our rigorous licensing approach in order to allow for the opening of safe and responsible cannabis retail stores."
After a lottery awarded 42 people the right to apply for a coveted cannabis shop in Canada’s biggest recreational pot market, the process was delayed after a group of 11 applicants filed a notice of judicial review.
The group stated they were disqualified after taking too long to submit a $50,000 letter of credit and wished to be reinstated back into the application process, arguing that the five-business day notification period was unfair for the applicants despite some not being notified they won the lottery on the date the provincial regulator claimed to do so.
Lawyers representing the group of disqualified applicants and a spokesperson from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario weren’t immediately available for comment.
In ruling against the requested stay, Justice Nordheimer noted that it would likely harm the public interest as well as the ongoing process that has already been well underway.
“Courts should be loath to interfere with that process, both because the process reflects policy choices made by the government, and also because there are ramifications for others who have legitimate interests under that process,” Justice Nordheimer said in his remarks dismissing the stay motion.
On Friday, three Ontario Divisional Court judges overseeing the notice for judicial review – Justice David Corbett, Justice Katherine Swinton and Justice Robbie Gordon – dismissed an application brought forward by the disqualified applicants to be reinstated in the licensing process.
The judges released their reasons for their ruling on Wednesday, stating the balance of convenience favours the people who were on a waiting list and now are in line to apply for a new pot shop licence “given the prejudice this group will suffer if the disqualification process is set aside and given that they are innocent parties”.
It is unknown if the lawyers representing the disqualified applicants will move forward with a formal appeal on the Ontario Divisional Court’s ruling.