Back in June, the Canadian province of Ontario held a general election to elect 124 members to the 42nd Parliament. The results of that election shifted the balance of power among the competing parties. And the new incumbents plan to make some significant changes to Ontario’s cannabis regulations.
Progressive Conservatives Toss Out Liberal Plan for Cannabis in Ontario
When the dust settled after Ontario’s June 7 general election, the Progressive Conservative party, led by Doug Ford, emerged with a majority government. Winning 49 seats in addition to the 27 it already held, Progressive Conservatives now control 76 of the 124 seats in the legislature.
And one of their first initiatives was a radical overhaul of the province’s cannabis regulations. The new system is a dramatic departure from the demands of the previous Liberal government, which lost 48 seats.
Initially, Ontario had planned to establish 40 cannabis stores in the first year of legal adult-use sales. The government said the number would grow to 150 by 2020. But all of the cannabis stores in the province would have been under the control of the LCBO, the government-run Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Government-run stores could better manage and regulate supply, the reasoning went. But Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford has a different philosophy. Taking a more free-market, almost libertarian approach, Ford hinted at a privatized cannabis retail market prior to the election.
Then on Monday, Ford’s government announced a pair of fundamental changes to the way cannabis businesses will operate in Ontario.
Retail Marijuana Sales Delayed As Ontario Switches To New Approach
Recreational marijuana sales were supposed to begin in Ontario on October 17. Now, however, retail storefront sales won’t begin until April 1, 2019.
In the short-term, that means that Ontario’s innumerable underground cannabis dispensaries will still be the go-to source for the province’s consumers. Otherwise, consumers can purchase cannabis legally online from October 17 to April 1.
In the meantime, the new majority party will begin consultations and discuss how best to implement the new system. Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party wants to allow private retailers in the province. And they’re looking to Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan as examples of hybrid public and private approaches to the retail market.
Under the new plan, the provincial government would still be the exclusive wholesaler to retailers, whether LCBO stores or private ones. Purchases will still require identification proving the buyer is 19 years old or older. And purchases will still be limited to 30 grams.
One other change is going less noticed, however, as consumers bemoan another delay. The new policy allows Ontario municipalities, like Toronto, to opt to completely ban cannabis retail operations in their jurisdictions. The delays and uncertainties are already having the effect of freezing investor interest. And that’s remarkable, considering Ontario has the potential to be the second largest private cannabis market in the world, behind California.