When Doug Ford’s populist, right wing Progressive Conservatives took power last June, people expected things to get shaken up. And nowhere has this turned out to be more true than with upcoming legal cannabis sales in the province.
Under the previous Kathleen Wynne Liberal government, the sales plan was clear: Build 150 government-run, brick-and-mortar Ontario Cannabis Stores (OCS), modelled on LCBO outlets, by 2020 (with 40 stores to be opened during the first year).
Then in August, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli announced: “The government of Ontario will not be in the business of running physical cannabis stores.”. . . Instead, we will work with private sector businesses to build a safe, reliable retail system that will divert sales away from the illegal market.”
This shocking announcement means there will be two ways Ontarians can purchase legal cannabis: online through the OCS website and eventually in physical cannabis stores. These stores will be privately owned. But who will supply their cannabis? The OCS.
A Frenzy of Speculation on Cannabis Sales in Ontario
The prospect of private marijuana sales in the country’s most populous province has sparked much speculation. And cannabis licensed producers (LPs) have scrambled to position themselves as private marijuana sellers.
Even before the official announcement was made, cannabis companies started snapping up retail locations in the province on the strength of rumors. “Ontario is a frenzy right now in terms of entrepreneurs, real estate developers—anybody within the cannabis infrastructure. The level of anticipation that's building up is massive right now,” said the president of one company.
There were lots of questions about how sales would work, and whether the province would embrace a dual private-public model.
How Will Marijuana Sales Work in Ontario?
While Ontario has a lot it still needs to work out, the provincial government has outlined many of its cannabis policies. It states: “When it’s legal, people 19 and over will be able to purchase cannabis online through the [OCS]. Online orders will be delivered safely and securely. Consumers will be required to verify their age to accept delivery and no packages will be left unattended at the door.
“You will be able to purchase up to 30 grams (about one ounce) of dried recreational cannabis at one time for personal use.”
So, as of Oct. 17, 2018, the OCS website will be the only legal option for purchasing recreational cannabis. It will follow strict rules set by the federal government.
The government will also introduce legislation that, if passed, would open up a tightly regulated private retail model for cannabis that would launch by April 1, 2019. Private stores would be regulated so as to combat the illegal cannabis market, and ensure that children and youths are kept away from the stores.
Ontario’s cannabis sales framework has people seeing double. Through the (OCS), the government will handle all sales at first online. And then when private sales are allowed, OCS will serve as the wholesaler for the entire provincial market.
OCS announced in August that it had entered into supply agreements with 32 LPs and 10 accessory suppliers “to ensure that a safe, diverse and high-quality supply of cannabis is ready and available upon legalization this fall.”
While the quick shifts in policy left some people reeling, a number of industry commentators said the moves made sense. The original plan to open only 40 stores in the first year would have been woefully inadequate to serve the province of 13.6 million people.
And 40 cannabis stores wouldn’t do much to stifle the illicit market for marijuana, one of the main reasons for legalization. Even with their much smaller populations, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are planning to open 51 and 30 cannabis stores respectively.
With private retailers eager to serve the Ontario market, the supply problem may be solved—if the provincial wholesaler can keep pace.
What Else do Ontarians Need to Know About Their Upcoming Marijuana Laws?
Other highlights of the Ontario cannabis policy include:
- Recreational cannabis use is only permitted in private residences and not in public places, workplaces and vehicles.
- Consuming cannabis in public comes with a first-time fine of $1,000, and $5,000 after that.
- Police can use oral fluid screening devices at roadside to determine impairment and lay drug-driving charges.
- There’s zero tolerance for young, novice and commercial drivers (i.e., no amount of cannabis is allowed in their system).
- People are allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants in a residence.
- The rules governing medical marijuana are different than recreational use.
Cannabis News in Other Provinces
Other provinces are also preparing for legalization, though seemingly with better preparation and fewer dramatic changes than those occurring in Ontario.
In British Columbia (B.C.), for example, dried marijuana will be available to the public through a mix of public and private sales. The rules governing smoking cannabis in public will be the same as those for tobacco.
The province also announced last June that Shopify would be the only mail delivery service for legal cannabis.
Like B.C., Quebec will allow residents to smoke cannabis anywhere they can ingest tobacco, but they won’t be allowed to cultivate their own marijuana plants at home.
And in Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) recently placed its first orders for a recreational marijuana supply—3.75 million grams comprising 78 strains from 14 vendors.
NSLC said it expects to order about 15 million grams of cannabis in the first year, to be sold in separate areas of 11 NSLC stores also selling alcohol. It will also have one downtown Halifax store serving as a marijuana-only retail outlet. The supply will be sold in five formats:
- Gel caps
Said NSLC President Bret Mitchell, “We have carefully selected the strains and will adjust our inventory based on customer preference.”
Photo credit: Get Budding