It looks like Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford has changed his mind about being open to a “free market” for selling legal weed in the province.
In a provincial debate last night, Ford attacked Premier Kathleen Wynne for placing one of the province's first legal pot shops near a school.
Just after he won the PC leadership race in March, Ford implied he might favour private pot shops.
“I'm open to a free market and I'm going to consult with our caucus,” he said on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning at the time. “I don't believe in the government sticking their hands in our lives all the time. I believe in letting the market dictate.”
Wynne is in the midst of establishing her scheme for selling recreational pot in the province via a government monopoly controlled by the LCBO. Weed will be sold in standalone shops called Ontario Cannabis Stores, with 40 opening this year, followed by another 40 in 2019, with a total of 150 by 2020. But when the two leaders discussed the issue at last night’s debate, Ford seemed to backtrack on his earlier position, noting that he too would go with an LCBO rollout.
“We don’t want cannabis sold in corner stores, we want to make sure there’s a controlled rollout. Kids’ safety is the top priority and undercutting the black market,” Wynne said.
Ford replied, “I won’t put it besides schools like you did,” a reference to the location of one of the first provincial weed stores, which was slated to be 450 metres from a local school.
Wynne responded that Ford was “going to have it in corner stores.”
“No actually I said LCBOs… it was beside a school on your watch,” he said, adding he will have “zero tolerance” for drug impaired driving.
Wynne noted that selling cannabis in a liquor store is a bad idea, while NDP leader Andrea Horwath said her party’s plan was the only one that would get rid of the criminal element in drug sales. (The NDP has been relatively quiet on weed other than to criticize the Liberals’ planned rollout as too slow to impact the black market.)
VICE reached out to the Ford campaign for clarity on his position on weed sales and whether or not he wants weed to be sold in LCBO stores or in stores controlled by the LCBO i.e. what Wynne is already doing. We have not yet heard back.
If the former is true, there are several issues with what Ford said last night.
First off, there are lots of LCBOs that are close to schools, particularly in dense urban areas—the one closest to my house is only 300 metres from the nearest high school. So Ford isn’t going to avoid the school proximity issue simply by selling weed in liquor stores.
(As a side note, unless we are worried that the province’s own employees aren’t going to be able to properly ID people and avoid selling weed to minors, is this really such a huge issue? There are a lot of schools in Toronto, so requiring a 450 metre buffer is going to be quite a challenge. Vancouver pot shops only need to be 300 metres from schools.)
Secondly, Wynne is right that selling weed in liquor stores is considered a bad idea by health officials. This is because mixing weed and liquor can make a person extremely intoxicated, and is especially dangerous when it comes to driving. And selling weed in liquor stores could encourage people who may otherwise not be interested to try it. Flipping that last point on its head, there are people who use cannabis instead of other substances, and requiring them to go into a liquor store to purchase weed seems unfair and unwise.
There’s only a few more weeks until Ontario’s provincial election, but when it comes to selling weed it seems the nanny state will be intact regardless of who wins.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.