Free market vs. government monopoly: recreational cannabis fight heats up in Ontario

Featured image courtesy of Canadian Press/Chris Young

It’s “government-owned monopoly” versus “free market retail” as Ontario’s political parties fight over recreational cannabis, an issue that will only get bigger with the provincial election looming later this year.

Doug Ford, the (alleged hash dealer and) Progressive Conservatives’ new leader recently told CBC News,

“Right now we’re going to sit down with the caucus and I’ve always been open to a fair market. I let the market dictate. I don’t like the government controlling anything, no matter what it is.”

Why Ontario can’t have a free market for recreational cannabis, according to Premier Wynne

Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne criticized the PC leader’s remarks, saying,

I think that a lot of parents would have concern about cannabis being available beside candy bars in corner stores,” adding, “I think there would be a recklessness to doing what Doug Ford is suggesting.”

She’s supported by the union that represents Ontario’s public service employees, OPSEU, which stands to see an increase of 2,000-3,000 new union members because of the government monopoly on recreational retail.

Cannabis sold beside candy bars in corner stores is ridiculous, Wynne confusing two separate issues

One question for the Premier- Why does allowing the free market into recreational cannabis mean that cannabis and candy will be sold side-by-side at corner stores?

If we look at corner stores, Ontario is one of many provinces to have banned cigarette displays, so even if corner stores were allowed to sell cannabis (which they’re not, except possibly in some rural locations), a reasonable person would assume that cannabis would at least be kept behind the counter and hidden like cigarettes are- and not found in the candy aisle, like Premier Wynne is suggesting.

But that’s all beside the point because co-location and private retail are two separate issues, and for Premier Wynne to conflate them is blatant “Think of the children!” fear-mongering.

Can Ontario Cannabis Stores possibly meet demand?

Ontario plans to open only 40 Ontario Cannabis Stores in 2018, with 150 stores by 2020- which raises huge questions over consumer access and whether the OCS can meet the demand for recreational cannabis in Canada’s most populous province.

To give you an idea of how few 40 Ontario Cannabis Stores really are, Toronto has at least 80 dispensaries alone. Granted, Toronto is Ontario’s largest city by a long shot, but it’s still crazy that it already has double the amount of cannabis stores the government is planning for the entire province.

One option is to integrate the hundreds of dispensaries already operating throughout Ontario into the legal system. Practically all of the dispensaries sell cannabis products in stand-alone stores anyways, with experienced budtenders who ID anyone who looks under 19.

Seems like the answer to the problem is staring the government in the face, right? Apparently not because instead of trying to bring the grey market into the light, Ontario is going all out against these dispensaries that could help fix the province’s impending supply and access problems.

Also, let’s not forget the…

Severe penalties: Jail time and fines

There are severe penalties for any cannabis store operating outside of the Ontario Cannabis Store regime. Breaking these rules can result in individual fines of up to $250,000 and/or two years in jail, while companies face fines of up to $1 million. There are also daily fines that range from $10,000 to $500,000 per day.

As Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said, “These are very steep penalties and they escalate over time as well if somebody continues to sell illegally”.



CBC: Doug Ford wants free market for cannabis in Ontario.

CBC: Ontario cracks down on illegal marijuana shops in new legislation for sale, distribution.

Financial Post: Ontario sets stiff fines for illegal dispensaries under new marijuana regime.

Global News: Premier Wynne calls Ontario PC leader Doug Ford’s comments on pot ‘reckless’.

National Post: Ontario’s pot plan a blow to dispensaries, but a boon for the public-service union.

Smoke Free Ontario Vendor Training: Display and promotion.