What is in store for the future of Ontario’s cannabis distribution? More questions than answers abound, as the former government’s plan faces uncertainty and the media faces a wall of silence from the current regime.
Private retailers are salivating over the prospect of Ontario sales, the government is wiping names off public websites, and despite being within three months of legalization, no one seems to know what’s going on – and those who do aren’t talking.
Here’s the evolution of Ontario’s cannabis distribution plan.
The Liberals intended to open 40 stores throughout Ontario this year, and a total of 150 by the year 2020. The Ontario Cannabis Stores (OCS), like the LCBO, were to be staffed by workers from the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU), who were expected to be specially trained in cannabis dispensation for “110 to 150 hours” by their employer.
Private retail sales were banned throughout the province.
The OCS logo was released, with some controversy regarding its CAD$650,000 price tag.
Ford commented during his election campaign that he was open to considering allowing private retail sales of cannabis.
In April, OCS announced four locations in Kingston, Guelph, Toronto, and Thunder Bay (it has yet to announce any since then). Nancy Kennedy was publicly declared OCS president the same day.
Former Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) VP Susan Pigott was announced as Chair of the board of the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC), the organization that supervises OCS.
Also announced as OCS board members were hospital CFO and LCBO board member David Graham; lawyer and former Ontario Power Generation board member Ira Kagan; LCBO board member Susan Robinson; and LCBO Board member and CAMH VP of Communications and Partnerships Lori Spadorcia.
The government issued a “Cannabis Product Call” to licensed producers (LPs), expiring May 2. The call sought submissions for cannabis and related accessories and asked LPs to provide a brand name, logo, and both long and short descriptions of the product submitted. No request regarding the effects, strength, or quantity of active ingredients was made.
Doug Ford was elected premier of Ontario, and the Conservatives assumed control of the province. Having previously expressed and openness to exploring private retail sales, the Liberal-developed system appeared to be up for debate.
OCS president Nancy Kennedy was quietly transferred to a new job in the Ontario cabinet, for reasons that have not been publicly released. She currently serves as Deputy Minister of Ontario’s Treasury Board Secretariat. Kennedy was replaced by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s David Phillips, but this is only known to the public because Phillips referred to himself as “President (Acting) at Ontario Cannabis Store (June 2018-present)” on his personal LinkedIn. The switch was eventually confirmed, but not explained, by the LCBO.
On July 19, OCS wiped its website clean of any mention of its Board of Directors, but there wasn’t an announcement or explanation for that either.
Images of what are alleged to be archived versions showing the deleted portions of the website were circulated on Twitter.
A July 23 search of the OCS website for “board of directors” yields only two results; both are from the previous Liberal regime. One is the April 16 press release announcing Nancy Kennedy as OCS president, the other a 2017 release with information about how to apply for the OCRC Board of Directors.
On July 24, OCS responded to a request for comment about the missing board of directors.
“The OCS continues to prepare for retail sales when cannabis becomes legal this fall,” an OCS representative told Daily Hive.
“The OCRC Board of Directors are listed on OCSCannabisUpdates.com. We were considering a new page for the Board members. We’ve put them back on the original posts.”
The Ministry of Finance was vague when Daily Hive asked about the current situation.
“The government has been working to launch a cannabis retail and distribution system to meet the federal legalization timeline of October 17,” Ministry of Finance spokesperson Scott Blodgett told Daily Hive in a July 24 email.
“Ontario will be ready with a system in place that meets the objectives of protecting youth and eliminating the illegal market.”
Specific questions about privatization, leasing freezes, and the board of directors were left unanswered.
Daily Hive also contacted OPSEU for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.