Ontario’s Liberal government announced today that as of next July, consumers will be able to buy marijuana online and at 40 LCBO-run retail outlets.
The date is in line with the federal government’s plan to legalize pot by July 1, 2018. By the end of 2020, 150 small stand-alone stores should be up and running across the province. The legal age for purchase will be 19, one year higher than the minimum set by the federal government earlier this year.
Edibles and oils will not be on sale in Ontario, only dried cannabis, in line with federal requirements. The province is waiting on federal guidance on labelling and packaging, and had no comment on the potency of the pot that would be on offer.
Consumption will be limited to private residences, at least at the start. So while individuals will be able to spark up in their backyard, they won’t be allowed to use the drug in public spaces, at work, or in their cars. Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s attorney general, said there may be opportunities in the future for licensing private establishments for the consumption of pot.
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Under the federal Cannabis Act, adults will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of legal pot, and youth (under 18), up to 5 grams. But the Ontario government plans to prohibit individuals under the age of 19 from possessing any marijuana. “To further protect youth, the prohibition of those under 19 having cannabis will also allow police to confiscate small amounts of cannabis from young people without leaving them with a criminal record,” Naqvi said.
Online and bricks-and-mortar stores will be run by a crown corporation operating as a subsidiary of the LCBO, although they’ll feature new branding (which has yet to be designed). The pot will be sourced from federally licensed Canadian suppliers and then sold over the counter by staff trained to dispense it. Marijuana advertising will be restricted.
“The LCBO model works. It is proven, and we feel strongly that it’s the right way to go,” said Charles Sousa, Ontario’s finance minister, at a media briefing. “Most importantly, it will give the people of Ontario confidence that we will meet our objectives: ensuring safe and controlled sales, protecting youth, shrinking the illicit market, and shutting down dispensaries in our communities.”
The LCBO was equally positive. “The LCBO looks forward to working with the Government of Ontario to ensure the carefully controlled sale of cannabis across the province when it is legalized,” George Soleas, the Crown corporation’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a testament to the skill and talent our employees bring to their jobs every day and our reputation as an organization that is trusted by Ontarians for responsible retailing and actions that support moderate consumption.”
The government will be working with municipalities to determine the best locations for the stores. Sousa indicated that it would aim to locate shops near illegal pot dispensaries in order to divert demand to legitimate outlets. Under current law, all dispensaries in Ontario are operating illegally, and that will continue to be the case under the new framework — the province reiterated its commitment to shutting them down.
But many of the details of the plan remain unclear: the minister, for example, had little to offer about the venture’s price tag. While he noted there would be a cost involved in establishing the online and storefront operations, he provided no specifics.
Sousa also couldn’t confirm how much the government expects to make from the sale of marijuana. “It’s dependent upon the price point and the tax systems as yet to be established,” he said. “We have yet to work with the federal government in respect to that. I’m going to have a federal, territorial and provincial meeting in the coming months. We will then establish those points.”
The price of pot will have to be competitive with what is available illegally, Sousa said, but it can’t be so low that it encourages more consumption.
The province made no comment about strategies to prevent impaired driving. Officials said that an announcement about this would come at a later date.
The government will introduce legislation this fall to implement the proposed changes.