Everything That Is Wrong With Ontario's Weed Plan
It’s a long list, my friends.
Asset screen cap via YouTube | Art by Noel Ransome
It's fair to say that Ontario's initial legal weed plans arrived with a sobering thud last week. Only in the average smoker's most paranoid moments did they see the LCBO setting up a parallel weed board to sell pot in a few dozen standalone shops across a province of 14 million. But Premier Kathleen Wynne seems determined to keep Ontario's unofficial "no fun" policy and her party's "let's see how low our polling numbers can get" plan in full force. While there are a lot of unknowns as yet (including whether the Liberals will be in office by the time this weed plan comes into effect next summer), the overall framework is mostly there. And by "mostly there" we mean, we have spotted a number of problems for consumers, taxpayers, and law enforcement. But mostly consumers.
There are a lot of contenders for the worst part of Wynne's pot plan but this is the most immediately laughable. Forty stores for all of Ontario in 2018. For context, there are more than 100 dispensaries in Toronto alone and 40 stores equals about one store per 250,000 Ontarians (i.e. one store is a decent-sized city). Currently, there are more than 1,200 places in Ontario to buy alcohol (LCBOs, Beer Stores, grocery stores, etc). So while, yes, there will be online shopping for pot (which is a crap way to shop for weed), most people are not going to live close by a Pot Store (or Pot Shoppe or whatever they call it). Putting weed in LCBOs or Shoppers Drug Marts now seems a lot more appealing, doesn't it? Oh well, I got a guy who will bike to my front door. Keeping you on speed dial, Biker Bobby!
Pot monopoly means government deciding winners and losers
The CCBO will become one of the biggest purchasers of pot on the planet (the LCBO is the world's biggest booze purchaser) and will have the power to make or break any number of burgeoning Canadian licensed producers (LPs). We've already seen how awful the Beer Store and LCBO have been to craft brewers in Ontario; will we see more of the same? Hope you have a good lobbyist, small-time pot LPs.
No weed lounges
Say goodbye to cannabis institutions like Vapor Central and Hot Box Cafe, which have served as a crucial gathering place for medical users and those on the forefront of the cannabis rights movement. On a pure "fairness" level, it seems odd that you are allowed to drink heavily in bars, while weed bars will be a no-go. It makes a lot more sense to license these establishments and give consenting adults the option to consume weed in a safe space.
Black market will still exist
For all the talk of legalizing weed to reduce criminalization of the industry, it does seem Ontario's approach will leave a lot of demand for the black market to tap into. For instance, if you live in rural Ontario, are you driving 45 minutes into "town" or waiting to have it mailed when you have a craving because Harold and Kumar is on or are you sticking with the guy down the road? While newbies might be content to try McWeed supplied by the government, people who can actually discern between an indica, a sativa, and a hybrid—or people who prefer their weed in the form of extracts, dabs, tinctures, capsules etc, are not likely to be satisfied by whatever's available at the CCBO. Not everyone wants to be a weed farmer, so expecting people to grow their own at home is a bit much. On top of that, because the feds (and thereby also the provinces and territories) are putting off regulating edibles at first, the already thriving market for medicated treats will more than likely remain intact. Even the RCMP admitted this week that it would be "naive" to think legalization will wipe out the black market.
Not everyone wants to smoke their weed and frankly, one of the best parts of the grey-market dispensary explosion was the sudden proliferation of gummies, lollipops, candy and other sundry delights. There are even top chefs in Ontario who make fancy five-course weed-infused feasts now. Sure, part of the "problem" with current retail edibles is that you never quite know what dosage you'll get, but like, that's half the fun man. And it's why you should regulate them. To be fair though, this is a federal responsibility, not Ontario's.
Ugly design almost guaranteed
Not that dispensaries have the most attractive storefronts (although some are really nice inside), but the new rules almost guarantee the CCBO stores will have a 1950s Soviet-chic vibe. With Ontario complying with federal laws not allowing for advertising or visibility of pot products for window shopping, these stores are going to have about as much appeal as an H&R Block.
While dispensaries have always been on notice, with Toronto police seemingly taking an interest in conducting big raids here and there for shits and giggles, the new law has put it in stone: the dispensaries are done. Instead of allowing the grey market into the legalized regime and letting the free market decide, a stupid amount of resources are going to be put into shutting down these stores and arresting their poorly paid employees—while Crown attorneys will likely never bother to prosecute them.
More money on policing
Speaking of policing. You would think legalization would come with a lot less work for cops. Maybe they'd even chill out and spark a federally-regulated joint with their Tim Horton's donuts. But Ontario's plan seems to already have police organizations begging for more time and resources. The feds have pledged an extra $274 million for cannabis enforcement at borders and around the country. So expect more tickets, more checks, more raids, and more cops.
Government employees selling you weed
Those of us already acclimatized to the free-market dispensary system know that pot shop employees have tried it all and are first-hand knowledgeable on strains, extracts, and dabbing techniques, not to mention good cartoons. For these employees to be replaced by unionized government workers who have likely been total narcs their whole lives willfully leaves out a whole lot of expertise. Yes, the government will ensure us there will be rigorous training, but most of the real experts (i.e. the ones involved in dispensaries) are unlikely to get jobs thanks to arrests and charges and generally, not being government employee material. You ever go to the (non-Vintages) LCBO and ask for a recommendation on a hoppy IPA? Yeah, us either.
No consumption anywhere outside your "private residence"
Back in November 2015, the Ontario government briefly OK'd smoking weed in public parks for medical users, but quickly walked that back. Now they seem to being going many steps further, limiting consumption to your "private residence." Of course, people have been smoking weed covertly in public since forever, so good luck finding a way to effectively enforce that when literally anyone over the age of 19 could be packing blunts.
What's sure to be a horrible 'public awareness' campaign
Canada's federal and provincial governments have been known to come up with gems like "We All Need the D" and this weird teen prom STI campaign. We can only imagine the 90-second spots detailing the dangers of getting your weed from shady characters in stairwells.
The City of Hamilton recently lost its attempt to shut down a local dispensary with an injunction, giving that dispensary a legal exemption to operate. Given how much money some of these dispensary owners have made, it wouldn't be surprising to see more of them launching legal challenges in an attempt to stay open. Also, by wiping out dispensaries and all the products they provide that aren't legally available, the government is not providing reasonable access to medical patients, an issue that could be raised in court. A lawyer also told VICE he thinks the province's attempt to ticket or fine youth caught with weed could be vulnerable to a challenge because it's violating the terms set out by the federal government. All of this is to say, taxpayers could be spending a lot more money for the government to fight these battles in court.
Growing your own weed seems a lot more enticing now
I didn't go to university for seven years to become a farmer. Sorry, dad.
Correction: A previous version of this story attributed rules on edibles and advertising to Ontario. Those are in fact, federal regulations, that Ontario is complying with. VICE regrets the error.