In a move that has parts of the cannabis community up in arms, the Ontario government announced this morning they will be in control of the sale and distribution of marijuana from the top down.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, Finance Minister Charles Sousa, and Health Minister Eric Hoskins declared that Ontario will be introducing the provincial legislation later this fall.
These new regulations will have the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) overseeing the creation of up to 150 stand-alone retail cannabis stores by the year 2020, with 80 stores opened by July 2019. The LCBO will also be in control of online sales in Ontario which will begin by the July 2018 deadline.
The sale of cannabis and alcohol together, as originally suggested by Premier Kathleen Wynne, will not be a reality.
This legislation will make the Liquor Control Board the only legal retail distributor of cannabis in Ontario, and will effectively create a province-wide government monopoly.
As well, the government announced this morning that all unlicensed dispensaries in Ontario will be shut down through a coordinated effort between local and provincial police, as well as the federal government.
As expected, the minimum age requirement to buy cannabis in Ontario will be 19 years or older, mimicking alcohol sales. However, should individual provinces desire to grant leeway and reduce the age to 18 or raise the minimum age, the federal government will allow it.
Non-medical cannabis consumption will not be permitted in any public location or the workplace, and decisions regarding the price and tax rates on marijuana will be determined after further details are provided by the federal government.
“The province is moving forward with a safe and sensible approach to legalization that will ensure we can keep our communities and roads safe, promote public health and harm reduction, and protect Ontario’s young people,” said Attorney General Naqvi.
Minister of Finance Charles Sousa added that Ontario is “committed to getting this transition right. When it comes to retail distribution, the LCBO has the expertise, experience, and insight to ensure careful control of cannabis, helping us to discourage illicit market activity and see that illegal dispensaries are shut down.”
A wide range of organizations were consulted prior to the legislation, including Loblaws who owns Canada’s largest pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart and various officials from the State of Colorado which legalized adult-use marijuana in 2012.
“The governments that opposed legalization are looking to have a monopoly, with the use of police and government agents to force the closure of competition,” said activist Jodie Emery in an interview with Marijuana.com. “It’s a form of government gangsterism [where]peaceful people will be denied access and liberty. This will result in legal challenges.”
Canopy Growth Corporation, one of the world’s largest cannabis producers based in Ontario, sent Marijuana.com this statement immediately after the press conference. “We like the clarity and the inclusion of e-commerce,” said Jordan Sinclair, Director of Communications for Canopy Growth. “For us, now we have marching orders and it’s all about production. We have to have capacity to get as much high-quality cannabis into the storefronts as possible.”
Ontario is the first province to officially announce its plans for the retail sale and distribution of marijuana ahead of the July 2018 deadline. It is also Canada’s most populated area with the highest concentration of licensed marijuana producers.