This morning, Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, Minister of Health, Dr. Eric Hoskins and Attorney General, Honourable Yasir Navqi made the Ontario government’s official announcement detailing its plans for how to implement federally legalized recreational cannabis.
The Government highlighted the four key priorities of Ontario’s approach to the federal plan: to protect youth; promote health and safety; focus on prevention and eliminate the illegal market.
Ontario legislation expected this fall on lawful use in the Province, which will dictate cannabis use and the retail structure.
After months of anticipation, the verdict is in. Sousa announced this morning that come July 1, 2018, the Ontario government will implement a retail model for recreational cannabis run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (“LCBO”). Cannabis will be sold in separate and dedicated standalone retail stores.
The government has committed to opening 150 storefronts across the province by 2020. The Ontario government’s Liquor Control Board will oversee all retail sales and run the online service, using existing workers from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
The rollout will be slow, with 40-50 stores expected to be open by July 1, 2018, 80 by July 1, 2019, and 150 by July 1, 2020. All sales will be via behind-the-counter service, where retail staff will be trained in properly identifying consumers and ensuring they are above the minimum age.
The minimum age for purchase will be set at 19, a year above the minimum age recommended by the Task Force Report released in November. Answers to the pricing and taxation model have been left unknown, although the government has stated that prices will be set high enough to both discourage sales in the illegal market and not so low as to encourage consumption.
The government has also committed to setting up an online store run by the LCBO, which will be necessary to supplement the relatively small number of stores and the millions of Ontario consumers that will become legally able to purchase cannabis on July 1, 2018. Online sales will be coupled with controlled delivery methods that are currently used at the LCBO.
The announcement did not detail specifics on what type of products will be carried in the retail outlets, although did state that edibles would not be one of them. The Ontario government reinforced the necessity of any such products to meet the federal government’s requirements on packaging and labeling information.
In terms of recreational cannabis consumption, it will initially be prohibited in public and only legal to do so in private residences. The Government stated that it would consider the possibility of licensed vapor lounges and/or spaces for consumption in the future.
Many people are questioning whether or not limiting recreational sales to an LCBO-run retail model will be effective or provide a benefit to Ontario consumers. Additionally, although the governments stated goals of legalizing the recreational market included removing the black market, it is possible that a slow implementation of the LCBO will have the opposite effect.
The Government was explicitly asked whether a government controlled retail system would be able to cover its own costs or whether taxpayers would need to foot some of the bill. The Government was either unable, or unwilling to answer that question.
It is also interesting to note that while the Government indicated that it heard and listened to Ontarioians’ voices, no information has been released regarding the online survey that was conducted.
For more information, The Government of Ontario has published both, “Ontario Releases Safe and Sensible Framework to Manage Federal Legalization of Cannabis” and “Ontario’s Cannabis Retail and Distribution Model”.