Marijuana: The devil’s in the details

TORONTO – As they say, the devil is in the details, and that is where Canada currently sits.

The “what” and the “when” are clear. Marijuana will be legal across Canada within months, targeting July 1st, 2019. Now its time to deal with the “where” and “how” and that is becoming a much more troublesome question.

Who will be able to grow and market it once it becomes legal? Will the government gouge the industry deeply right off the get-go leaving, like tobacco growers have found, not enough profit margin to make it worthwhile to the small grower or distributor.

Canada seems to want to dispense pot like it does alcohol, through the LCBO, or a similar model, cutting out thousands of entrepreneurs who are currently selling the weed at dispensaries that are popping up like, well — weeds.

There is a lot of money at play here, and one can bet the government will want to keep as much of the revenues, taxes and control as it can.

Many are anticipating that once it becomes as legal as alcohol, there won’t be enough growers or dispensaries to satisfy the demand.

“In response to the federal government’s plan to legalize cannabis by July 2018, Ontario is committing to a safe and sensible framework to govern the lawful use and retail of recreational cannabis as a carefully controlled substance within the province,” according to a media release sent out by the Liberals earlier this month.

Some of the highlights:

– The proposed minimum age to use, purchase and possess recreational cannabis in Ontario will be 19. The use of recreational cannabis will be prohibited in public places and workplaces.

– The LCBO will oversee the legal retail of cannabis in Ontario through new stand-alone cannabis stores and an online order service. This approach will ensure that there will be only one legal retail distributor for cannabis in Ontario and alcohol and cannabis are not sold alongside each other.

– Approximately 150 standalone stores will be opened by 2020, including 80 by July 1, 2019, servicing all regions of the province. Online distribution will be available across the province from July 2018 onward.

– Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers. The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations.

– Ontario will prohibit individuals under the age of 19 from possessing or consuming recreational cannabis, which will allow police to confiscate small amounts of cannabis from young people. The province’s approach to protecting youth will focus on prevention, diversion, and harm reduction without unnecessarily bringing them into contact with the justice system.

The Liberal government announced recently that it will sell marijuana in “as many as 150 dedicated stores run by the province’s liquor control board.” This is not good news for the rapidly expanding pot industry.

It goes on to say, “Those looking to purchase marijuana when it becomes legal across the country will be subject to the same age and usage restrictions currently in place for alcohol,” said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.

But private retailers say the plan will not crush the black market any more than prohibition crushed the manufacture and distribution of booze in the 1930s in the U.S., and actually push users towards the “black-market”.

Time will tell, but most expect a loosening of the restrictions and an expansion in distribution centres, due to public pressure.

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