Congratulations Ontario! It took awhile, but finally, common sense prevailed as the province announced it is completely scrapping the government’s planned monopoly on recreational cannabis in favour of private retail outlets – and all it took was for the Ontario Liberals to get completely annihilated in June’s election!
With the Progressive Conservatives in power, leader Doug Ford is letting his belief in the free market take over cannabis retail and the government will now only be running online sales- but it’s not all good news.
With the switch from physical Ontario Cannabis Stores to privately-owned retail locations, the opening of brick-and-mortar stores has been further delayed until at least April 2019, meaning that Ontarians have zero options for in-store purchases- they MUST buy their cannabis online or else they’re breaking the law.
Because, as cannabis lawyer Harrison Jordan told CBC News: The National:
“There’s an offence federally against possessing illicit cannabis, so it’s certainly possible individuals could be charged for possessing cannabis if they buy it from a street dealer.”
But that only brings up questions, like “How can authorities prove where you bought the cannabis?” and “What if you grew the cannabis yourself since Canadians are allowed to grow up to 4 plants?”.
Forcing people to buy online can also be much less convenient and subject consumers to unnecessary delays, as you could end up waiting days for your package to arrive in the mail instead of just heading to the closest dispensary where you can have your cannabis within minutes.
More bad news is that while cannabis retail has been privatized on the retail side, the distribution side remains very much the same- completely government controlled. But that’s par for the course for most of the country, regardless if the retail stores are private or public because the only legal cannabis wholesalers are the respective provincial governments.
So if Doug Ford believes in the free market so much, why isn’t he privatizing the distribution as well? There will be a definite lack of variety and competition if all the private retail stores are still forced to carry the same cannabis.
Why did Ontario change its mind?
According to The Star, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said:
“Private cannabis stores are the right way to take on the black market once pot becomes legal because heavy consumers would prefer to buy their weed from private dispensaries over government-owned stores”.
Apparently, a government study found that up to 70% of the heaviest cannabis users preferred private dispensaries, so they figure one of the best ways to fight the black market is to allow private dispensaries.
And that’s not even mentioning the considerable money the government will save by offloading the costs of building the brick-and-mortar stores to the private sector.
But what about all the money already invested in the now-scrapped Ontario Cannabis Store model?
According to a statement by the OCS:
“The costs associated with the shift in the OCS mandate are minimal and efforts will be made to repurpose and reassign any investments made to date.”
Despite the Finance Minister saying, “For those engaged in the underground today, our message is simple- stop”, the change in direction has been hailed by dispensaries across the province on social media, like MMJ Canada CEO Clint Younge.
Featured image courtesy of CTV News.
CBC News: The National: Doug Ford’s marijuana privatization plan scraps government-run stores.