Ontario Plans To Sell Weed In a Handful of Government-run Stores

No one seems very happy with the move.

by Manisha Krishnan
Sep 8 2017, 1:55pm

Image source: Getty Images, Steve Russell / Contributor

The Ontario government is planning on selling cannabis in 40-60 government-run stores when weed is legalized next year, according to media reports.

Last night, both the CBC and the Globe and Mail reported on the province's pot rollout plan, which is slated to be officially announced later today. The reports say Ontario will open dozens of storefronts controlled by the government through a cannabis control board—essentially the weed version of the LCBO system. Cannabis will also be able to be purchased online.

The reports also said 19 will be the legal age for purchasing weed.

This option means private dispensaries will be left out of the market, and will likely be permanently shut down, after a year and a half of Toronto's grey market dispensaries being only occasionally policed. Last year, there were estimated to be more than 100 dispensaries operating in Toronto. In an interview with VICE in May, Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said there are far fewer dispensaries now than there were in 2016.

To put the numbers into comparison, if the Ontario government opens with 60 stores next year that's about one store per 225,000 people. There are currently about 650 LCBOs and 450 Beer Stores in the province and over 200 grocery stores can sell beer. There is also no word on how the modest number of stores will impact access to weed for people living outside of major city centres.

The Toronto Star reports Ontario plans to open about 150 weed stores by 2020.

Many believe the small number of storefronts the government intends to open will not meet demand and will continue to allow the black market to thrive.

"It will be good for new cannabis consumers who know nothing about cannabis and want to try it, but for actual cannabis consumers who make up 90 percent of the repeat customer base, they will not be able to compete with the variety of product—edibles, extracts, topicals—nor will will they be able to properly market in a way that will deter people from continuing to shop in the existing environment," said Abi Roach, owner to Toronto's Hot Box Cafe, a weed lounge in Kensington Market.

The federal government has not yet rolled out a plan for edibles, but in Toronto it's possible to access a wide range of them through pop-up shops.

"The cannabis community has evolved and bubbled below the surface for decades. We will continue to evolve," Roach told VICE.

Jack Lloyd, a lawyer who represents people charged with cannabis crimes, described the government's plan as "tyrannical."

"The Ontario government is explicitly consenting to the fact that storefront dispensaries are the right model for Ontario just so long as the government owns and controls it and can punish anyone and everyone who exists outside of it," he told VICE.

However, he believes it will be possible for private dispensaries to launch legal challenges allowing them to stay open. Recently, he successfully fought an injunction by the city of Hamilton against a dispensary operating there, allowing the shop to continue to sell to patients who have their medical licenses.

Justin Loizos, who runs a Toronto-based compassion club and suffers from multiple sclerosis told VICE he's not surprised by the government's stance.

"The proliferation of illegal clubs operating outside of any real regulation didn't help, but did we even have a hope?" he said. " Probably not unless we got real organized some years ago and started to lobby our government."

He said he's been shifting his compassion club into a "co-op" model, where patients with licenses to grow and consume medically can provide cannabis for each other.

"The only day we can shut our doors is when all patients are safe. When all insurance covers it and… veterans and everyone can get full access to this life saving plant."

Lisa Campbell, a spokeswoman with the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, told VICE the government selling weed will help normalize it, which is positive. However, she said the city of Toronto has wasted massive amounts of resources in fighting against dispensaries, instead of creating a licensing system, as Vancouver has done.

More to come..

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