Ontario Shocker: Province to Restrict Legal Cannabis Sales to 150 Government-Run Stores and One Website

One of the great questions leading up to Canada’s 2018 legalization of adult-use cannabis is how individual provinces will handle their Trudeau-given duties to hammer out details of the newly legal plant’s distribution and sale.

“Online sales will begin next July.”

Today, Ontario gave us a shocking example of what such provincial hammering might look like, unveiling a plan that would restrict sales of legal cannabis in the province to 150 government-run stores and a government-run website—a move that would completely outlaw the province’s thriving, beloved, and, yes, illegal independent dispensaries.

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Other details of the plan, announced today at a joint press conference held by Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Health Minister Eric Hoskins, and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi in Queen’s Park: the aforementioned 150 government-run cannabis stores will be overseen by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and sales of legal adult-use cannabis will be restricted to those 19 and above (the same as liquor).

“There will be 80 LCBO weed stores in place across the province by July 1, 2019 and another 70 by 2020,” reports the Toronto Star. “Online sales will begin next July.”

Some backstory and speculation: This summer, Ontario conducted an as-vast-as-possible survey of its citizens, seeking their opinions on cannabis, to help steer the province’s official cannabis guidelines. “[The survey will carry] lots of weight,” Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi told the CBC in July. “It’s important from our perspective to hear directly from Ontarians.”

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The results of this Ontario survey are still being digested, but in a Forum Research survey conducted in April 2016, 52% of Ontario respondents expressed the opinion that the best place to sell legal cannabis would be dedicated cannabis dispensaries. More recently, a survey conducted by Nanos Research in July 2018 found that 55% of Ontario residents preferred cannabis be sold by licensed private retailers rather than province-run liquor stores.

Clearly, Ontarions love their non-LCBO cannabis dispensaries—so why is the government, which made so much noise about valuing citizens’ input, killing them dead? Perhaps the dream is to incorporate everything people love about independent dispensaries into the forthcoming government shops. Or maybe it’s just a middle-finder to the illegal dispensary scene and any and all who appreciate it.

Stay tuned for on-the-ground reporting from Toronto.


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