Private retail licensing and regulation of cannabis

The AGCO is responsible for administering the Cannabis Licensing Act, and its regulations. The communication objectives concerning this new line of business include creating awareness of how private cannabis retail will be regulated, developing an accurate and common understanding of the key regulations and their objectives, helping AGCO customers through the licensing process and helping licensees understand their regulatory compliance obligations.

AGCO Website

The AGCO website, www.agco.ca, remains a primary information and communication channel for the agency and its stakeholders. The site provides up to date information for all lines of business, including a newly added section for cannabis retail. This site is also the gateway to iAGCO, the agency’s online service delivery portal. The site is compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), provides all information in both English and French, and is adaptive for ease of use on tablets and mobile devices.

The AGCO generates monthly analytics reports that measure a number of key website performance indicators. These reports help gauge how well the site is contributing to business objectives related to education, awareness and compliance. The AGCO captures direct user feedback using a short survey that helps understand how easily users are able to find the information they came for. All of this is with the goal of continually improving and expanding the site to meet the needs of the AGCO’s stakeholders.

Social Media

The AGCO is expanding and optimizing its presence on social media so that it can better engage with the public and stakeholders on relevant topics. The AGCO is taking a more proactive approach to community engagement and exploring opportunities to expand its social media footprint in a manageable way. The number of social media followers has significantly increased since the AGCO was named regulator of private cannabis retailing.  In the 30 days following the announcement (from September 26 to October 25, 2018), over 3,400 users subscribed to receive email updates on cannabis licensing information, and that number rose to over 5,000 in the weeks that followed. There were 53,296 visitors to the AGCO web site, an increase of 42.64% compared to the same period in 2017In order to align with the Ontario Public Service’s digital objectives, the AGCO continues to pursue a “digital by default” strategy. This includes producing and sharing engaging digital content (e.g. videos, infographics, images, etc.) and responding appropriately to relevant questions and inquiries within social communities. 

Educational Webinars and Videos

In support of the agency’s strategic engagement activities, the AGCO uses webinars as an efficient and cost-effective way of engaging with stakeholders from across the province. The webinars have proven to be popular and useful tools to support a variety of AGCO initiatives. Topics have ranged from Beer, Wine and Cider in Grocery Stores and Special Occasion Permits (SOPs) for Festivals, to Municipal Webinar: Get to Know the AGCO and Introduction to iAGCO. Webinars will support the new cannabis retail regulation line of business to convey information on such topics as eligibility and application requirements as well as information for municipal officials.

The AGCO will also continue to use explainer videos to clarify important processes or changes. These easy to understand and easy to share videos have proven popular, as demonstrated by the more than 44,000 views of the video explaining the online application process for Special Occasion Permits.

Communications Support for AGCO Initiatives

The role of Corporate Communications is to provide expertise and communications support to other divisions and branches in their initiatives. Some major initiatives in the next year include:

iAGCO: Communications has played an important role supporting the rollout of the first three phases of iAGCO and will continue doing so for the remaining phases.

External communications include the preparation of information and awareness products that alert stakeholders of the forthcoming changes, help them understand what is changing and how they will be affected, the benefits to them and the timing of all activities. This information is shared on the AGCO’s owned channels, such as the website and social media properties, and also distributed in partnership with relevant stakeholder associations and industry groups.

Internal communications include products and plans to keep staff informed of the progress of iAGCO at key points in the initiative’s implementation.

Charitable Gaming Modernization: Communications is supporting the next phases of the Charitable Gaming Modernization initiative in the form of external and internal products created to spread awareness of the electronic raffle regulatory framework. This includes the creation of an educational video, information bulletins and products, such as helpful checklists for electronic raffle licensees.

Horse Racing Regulatory Reform: This initiative is aimed at modernizing the regulatory rules that govern horse racing in Ontario. It requires ongoing communications support, including writing, editing and designing various information materials, as well as advice on best practices for communicating with the horse racing industry. The AGCO’s industry newsletter, Race Line, continues to keep horse racing stakeholders informed of important information and is published four times per year. Updates to the Rules of Racing will be completed and new rule books will be published in fall 2018.  An online version of the rule book is also being developed and scheduled for launch in 2019.

AGCO 2020 Transformational Agenda: Communications is playing a key role in supporting the AGCO 2020 vision of delivering world-leading, integrated, interactive, and intuitive regulation for the sectors it regulates.

Ongoing Programs

Media Relations

The AGCO receives approximately 130 media inquiries each year from many different media outlets, including newspapers, radio, magazines, web-based news blogs and television. These outlets request information on AGCO activities, decisions and regulations affecting liquor, lottery, gaming, horse racing, and now cannabis activities. 

The agency strives to respond to these requests in a timely and transparent way. A media response analysis covering a 6-month period in 2017 indicated that 51% of media inquiries were responded to within 3 hours, and 82% by the next business day.

AGCO policy provides that all media inquiries are handled by a media spokesperson through the Communications and Corporate Affairs Division. In some instances, specialized media and spokesperson training has been provided to other AGCO staff.

Education, Training and Awareness (ETA)

Communications continues to support the agency’s ETA strategy, which is intended to promote stakeholder education and understanding of the laws and regulations that apply to them. The ETA strategy aims to improve regulatory compliance and outcomes across all lines of business.

Information Bulletins

The AGCO issues information bulletins to the sectors it regulates in order to inform stakeholders of decisions from the Registrar, as well as changes or clarifications to the regulations governing these sectors. A variety of channels are used to distribute these bulletins, including the AGCO’s website and direct email distribution to stakeholders via their industry associations.

Newsletters

The AGCO regularly publishes and distributes newsletters in English and French to provide educational and compliance information to stakeholders and the public. Downloadable versions of all newsletters are available on the AGCO website. In the coming year, these printed newsletters will transition to digital format for ease of access, as well as to lower production and distribution costs.

Current Newsletters

  • Licence Line is a newsletter published three times per year for liquor sales licensees. It covers a variety of issues important to that audience, including information on recent changes to liquor legislation, regulations and policies, as well as industry news and tips for licence holders.
  • Lottery Line is a newsletter for lottery retailers and is published three times a year. It provides information and tips to educate sellers on the laws, regulations and policies governing the sale of OLG lottery products and break-open tickets. Lottery Line is published in English, French and Korean.
  • Race Line is an informative and educational newsletter for horse racing licensees and other parties interested in Ontario’s horse racing industry. Race Line is produced electronically three times a year and printed copies are available at industry association offices, racetracks and from the AGCO.

Planned Newsletter – Retail Cannabis

  • A newsletter for cannabis retail stakeholders is being planned for release in 2019 to provide useful information to licence and authorization holders in this emerging sector.

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