During his campaign to become premier of Ontario, Doug Ford promised a radically different model for cannabis distribution than the one planned by Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal party. The Liberals hoped to duplicate the province’s liquor monopoly. The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), operated by the government and staffed by public-sector-union members, would have slowly opened up stores across the province after marijuana is legalized come October.
Ford felt differently. “I’ve always been open to a fair market, and I let the market dictate,” he said during an interview shortly after winning the race to become the leader of the Progressive Conservative party. He didn’t speak much of the issue after that, and limited his comments after the election to saying he’d be consulting with Ontarians. But sticking with Wynne’s plan seemed improbable.
So it was no surprise to learn this week that, come Oct. 17, Ontarians will be able to order cannabis through the OCS, online only (after verifying their age). The rollout of brick-and-mortar stores has been delayed until April, during which time Ontario will implement a system of private-sector distribution.
I’ve always been open to a fair market, and I let the market dictate
Ontario Premier Doug Ford
The details for that system are still to be determined. It’s a blank slate now. But this is exactly the right move. There was no justification, none, for creating a new provincial agency, especially given that Ontario has recently taken the first hesitant steps toward loosening the LCBO’s near-monopoly (the Beer Store is a topic for another day). It would be madness to both establish a new LCBO-style monopoly for cannabis at the precise moment the LCBO’s near-monopoly on alcohol is being relaxed — with further liberalization to come, according to the government.
A properly regulated private sector is entirely capable of responsibly handling cannabis sales, just as it currently does many other restricted, regulated products. The details will matter; hopefully Ontario will ensure its regulations are limited to those required for public health and safety, and will permit a flourishing new industry to develop in Ontario, offering maximum convenience for shoppers.
But even a less ambitious, more draconian private-sector model is superior to what was being planned under the Liberals. Ontarians can therefore hope for the best while resting easy knowing that the worst option, another LCBO, has been taken off the table.
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