Will they be ugly? Probably.
This is gonna suck. Art by Sarah Berman
In a move approved by almost no one, the Ontario government has announced that once weed is legalized next summer, it will be sold only in stores and websites controlled by the LCBO.
The shops will be "standalone" to ensure weed isn't sold alongside alcohol. Officials said the province will start with a mere 40 stores at the outset of legalization, and aim to have 80 operating by July 2019 and 150 by 2020.
While there are few details on the shops themselves, here's what we do know or can at least make reasonable guesses about:
- Products are not allowed to be "visible to youth" meaning empty window fronts; coupled with the strict advertising laws, these stores are probably going to look pretty basic and ugly.
- Weed will stay behind the counter.
- There will be strict ID requirements; for online deliveries, there will be an ID check when weed is delivered and signature requirements.
- There will be no edibles, as per the federal Cannabis Act
- Based on the fact that there will only be 40 stores to start—roughly one per 340,000 people—there will probably be some pretty insane lineups.
- Shitty hours. Many LCBOs close at 6 PM on Sundays and aren't open holidays (aka the best days to smoke weed and cure a hangover). We can probably expect the same from these storefronts.
- Security guards and cameras are a given.
Here's what we don't know:
- What the stores will be called—the government has said it's not going with LCBO, but we don't know what it will use instead. Certainly Cannabis Control Board of Ontario has a super bureaucratic ring to it.
- Locations. We only know that priority will be given to areas with lots of dispensaries, so we can assume Toronto will host a good chunk of the 40 initial stores.
- How many strains/varieties of products will be carried?
- Will it just be flower? Or will there be tinctures/THC capsules available?
- Will they sell accessories, like vapes and pipes?
- What kind of training will staff be given?
- Prices. Officials said they'll figure out pricing and taxation in the fall, but are aiming to price low enough to cut out the black market but not so low as to "encourage consumption."
Retail expert Doug Stephens told VICE the LCBO itself has come under tremendous pressure to expand its offerings for people who, for example, want to purchase craft beer and local wines. Once people get over the initial novelty of being able to purchase weed legally, it'll be the same thing, he said.
"Consumers have so much awareness of what's available in other markets and they demand a universality."
It's unlikely the people running the government weed stores will have the expertise as those currently selling weed in dispensaries, he added, noting there is a massive learning curve with cannabis and its many forms and functions. That lack of experience won't be aided by overly restrictive packaging that hides the product and makes people feel "almost guilty" out of the gate.
"People want the sense of assurance that they know what they're getting. They can see it, they can understand it, and they talk to somebody who can help provide that information," said Stephens.
"All the government is setting themselves up for is a situation where right away competitors are going to look at how they're delivering this to the market and say 'We can do this so much better, and we should.'"
Follow Manisha on Twitter.