Ontario Government to Harsh Private Sector’s Buzz

By Maggie McCutcheon

IG: @magininka

By July of 2018, marijuana consumption will be legal across Canada with each province being left to decide the best way to proceed. The Ontario government has proposed to extend the reach of the LCBO, or Liquor Control Board of Ontario, to accommodate the distribution of cannabis and its by-products. The plan is to unfold 40 locations and online ordering by the July 1st deadline and for 110 subsequent locations to open by 2020.

The LCBO currently controls the majority of alcohol distribution and importation for the province of Ontario, making it one of the largest purchasers of alcoholic beverages in the world. Meanwhile, the private dispensaries Ontario pot smokers have been frequenting have essentially been given a year before they will be forcefully shut down—a rude surprise for small companies that have been working to introduce accessibility to marijuana and marijuana products.

Provinces like British Columbia have already moved to embrace and regulate open dispensaries rather than shut them down. But these businesses haven’t been problem free. Not only are they largely cash businesses but the risk of operation—which is still completely illegal in every other province—has been shouldered by precarious workers in what is amounting to be an outrageously profitable industry. Following raids, which happen frequently enough, not only are their current employees left completely stranded but they are quickly replaced by other part-time, minimum wage workers.

However, the proposed alternative amounts to a monopoly on production, distribution, and profit. Though workers will be unionized and some 2,000 jobs might be created, the government is choking out farmers and current marijuana marketers. It would be easy enough to weave a compromise allowing current dispensaries to option licensing agreements and, instead, consumers are forced through government doors. The generation of traceable tax dollars will help fight the province’s deficit, but the model will ultimately be cultivating a new class of interest groups sitting in the government’s pocket as a way of ensuring their product’s inclusion within it.

With a budget of almost $275 million reserved at the federal level for enforcement, the Ontario government’s health and safety M.O. is flimsy and transparent. Yes, product will be regulated in a new and consistent way, but this model is not about accessibility for medical users—particularly evidenced by the ban on public consumption, a constraint placed neither on alcohol nor tobacco use.

Further, the experts in the field are the ones who have been subject to the law and criminalized. Only a handful of farms are currently licensed to produce medical marijuana, and it would be unrealistic to expect them to fulfill what will undoubtedly be an endless demand for the product. Ignoring that concern, approximately 80 dispensaries are currently open in Toronto alone—already twice the storefronts than what is slated to be opened across the entire province—with each needing trained staff knowledgeable in strains and consumption, who can help customers in a meaningful way.

Though businesses have been raided, the province hasn’t managed to keep them from re-opening. There is a mounting concern the province’s proposition will not be enough to curb the ‘black market’ and that it will be met with considerable resistance at every step. There is, as of yet, no information available on how they intend to price the product.