Yesterday’s announcement by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is a drastic shift from the proposed retail model that had been set out by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.
The province had originally planned to sell cannabis through government-run outlets and online under the name Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), 40 of which would open up this year, and a total of 150 locations by 2020.
Now, when legalization comes into force on October 17, Ontarians will only be able to legally purchase adult use cannabis online through the OCS. Private retail is scheduled for April 1, 2019, pending the passing of legislation.
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The government will no longer be running brick-and-mortar stores for cannabis retail, but will still control online sales, and wholesale distribution.
A private retail program is expected by April 1, 2019, after consultations with municipalities, Indigenous communities, law enforcement, public health advocates, businesses and consumer groups and representatives of the other provinces.
Ontario will be looking to Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan as models.
Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli emphasized that current cannabis retail locations are illegal and will remain so after October 17.
He encouraged operators in the underground system to “stop,” as the government “will not want to do business with people running an illegal business,” however prior involvement will not explicitly prohibit someone from applying for a license.
Seal of approval
The province proposed an “Official Ontario Cannabis Retailer Seal” for licensed private retail locations.
The seal is intended to let consumers know that they are purchasing federally quality controlled products from a legitimate retailer.
The province will enter into an undetermined consultation period with municipalities, set to start next week.
It was proposed that municipalities will get a one-time window in which newly elected councillors can choose whether or not they want to allow private retail within their borders.
$40 million dollars has been allocated by the province for transition funding to help with costs related to private cannabis retail, including increased enforcement.
The two key objectives set out by the province are protecting youth and eliminating the illegal market.
While legislation still needs to be drafted regarding private retail, it was suggested that selling cannabis to a minor (under the age of 19) will result in the immediate revocation of a licence.
Which businesses will be allowed to sell recreational cannabis, staff training, hours of operation, storage safety, and pricing will be determined during the upcoming consultation period.
Escalating fines for the illegal sale of cannabis has been proposed, as well as roadside oral fluid drug screenings.
Consumption, possession, and growing
“When recreational cannabis becomes legal in Ontario the use of it in any public place, workplace, or motorized vehicle will be strictly prohibited,” said Attorney General Caroline Mulroney.
It will only be legal to consume recreational cannabis in a private residence, including the outdoor space of a home to “protect Ontarians from the dangers of secondhand smoke.”
Possession and growing legislation are in line with the Cannabis Act, allowing a person to possess up to 30 grams of dried flower in public, and grow up to four plants per household (not per person).