Pubdate: Sat, 09 Sep 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Reevely
Page: A2


The LCBO model works. It's proven and we feel strongly that it's the
way to go.

A new arm of the LCBO will sell recreational marijuana in Ontario, the
province announced Friday morning, with the goal being to keep people
from buying it.

"We've heard people across Ontario are anxious about the federal
legalization of cannabis," Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said, setting
the tone. "The province is moving forward with a safe and sensible
approach to legalization that will ensure we can keep our communities
and roads safe, promote public health and harm reduction, and protect
Ontario's young people."

Naqvi, Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Health Minister Eric Hoskins
delivered the plans Friday morning, partly reading a joint statement
on behalf of the government and partly taking questions individually -
Naqvi about the law, Sousa about the logistics of retail sales and
Hoskins about the health implications.

The federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has
promised its own legislation to legalize marijuana by next summer,
keeping a 2015 campaign promise from Trudeau's Liberals. Working out
the details of how it'll be sold is up to the provinces.

Neither the federal nor the Ontario government seems very eager to do
any of this, though. Prohibiting pot has been an obvious failure for
decades, costing fortunes in law enforcement and ruining lives with
criminal charges without keeping the smell of sweet smoke from wafting
through every downtown neighbourhood on mild evenings, all to try to
stop people from choosing to use a drug that's less damaging than alcohol.

Instead of welcoming a chance to stop failing expensively, the
ministers all looked as though they'd just been threatened in a
backroom and then dragged out by their heels to the microphone.

"Cannabis will remain a carefully controlled substance in Ontario,"
Sousa promised. It'll be covered by the restrictions that apply to
tobacco, plus the restrictions that apply to alcohol. "We are
confident that we have taken the best approach. The LCBO model works.
It's proven and we feel strongly that it's the way to go."

"Legalization is taking place at the federal level. It's not a matter
of supporting or opposing. Our approach is to be as thoughtful and as
competent about it (as possible)," Naqvi, the MPP for Ottawa Centre,
said in a separate interview. "That's why we've spent a lot of time
and, being the lead on it, we've spent a fair bit of time on
understanding the marketplace, understanding the behaviour, and
understanding where the preferences will lie for Ontarians."

Following general models we already use to restrict legal drugs will
be convenient, he said.

"To the extent that we can align the regulatory mechanism with alcohol
and tobacco, it will be easy to educate Ontarians, it will be easy to
familiarize them with the reality of legalization of cannabis," he

But unlike a nice Niagara Riesling, pot is still a dirty drug. So the
experience of buying it legally will be like the one the provincial
liquor store offered decades ago, when you'd buy wine and spirits by
filling out a slip saying what you wanted and a worker would go and
get it for you from a backroom.

"We will not permit products to be visible," Sousa

Customers will have to show identification and get their pot from
salespeople behind counters in up to 150 stand-alone marijuana stores
by 2020, with the actual marijuana concealed in plain cases the way
corner stores now keep their tobacco. Sousa's ministry will consult
with municipalities on just where to put the stores, mindful that some
people won't want them near schools, for instance.

They'll open in waves - 40 next summer when federal legalization kicks
in, 80 by the end of 2018, the full complement two years after that.

There will be no self-service, no browsing. Sales will be restricted
to people 19 and older (youths will be banned from possessing
marijuana under provincial law, though it won't be a criminal offence)
and recreational marijuana use will only be allowed in private residences.

So don't expect marijuana vaping lounges or even to smoke a joint in
places you can smoke a cigarette. At home only, though in a back yard
or on a balcony will be OK. Naqvi did say that licensing premises for
marijuana consumption, like pot bars, is something Ontario will
explore at some point. We'll figure out what to do about edible
marijuana products if and when the federal government legalizes those,
and we'll have to figure out provincial rules on driving while high.

They're still working on how the government retailer will buy its
marijuana wholesale and how it'll be priced. The provinces are
expecting meetings later this fall, seeking some common ground so
there aren't huge differences from one jurisdiction to another.

How cross-border pot shopping will work is another interprovincial
issue yet to be resolved, Naqvi said.

Sousa said he expects marijuana to be a money-maker for the
government, though hiring and training staff and setting up stores and
a distribution network will mean upfront costs. Hoskins said he
expects some of the proceeds to be plowed into public-health campaigns
that discourage pot-smoking.

Ontario has 660 governmentrun liquor stores now and a further 212
"agency stores," where private grocery and conveniencestore owners in
more rural areas have licences to sell alcohol. So there'll be a
comparative lack of government pot shops.

Sousa said online sales will begin in 2018, on the same terms as it's
legal to buy alcohol online - with ID checks and signatures required
upon delivery. That's how people without a nearby marijuana store will
be able to get the stuff.

The province and cities will crack down on the proliferation of
private storefront marijuana shops, which are illegal and will stay
that way. Dozens have opened across the province since the Liberal
government announced its legalization plans, with owners hoping to get
momentum. Expect more aggressive police enforcement.

Having the LCBO run the retail marijuana business means it's likely
the jobs in the government stores will be filled by employees
represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union,
historically one of the provincial government's most obstreperous.
OPSEU has lobbied for the LCBO to handle pot sales for years.

"An important side benefit to today's announcement is that it means
good union jobs that will promote the culture of safety and integrity
that people appreciate in the LCBO," said OPSEU president Smokey
Thomas. "There is no downside to today's announcement. It's a model
that we encourage other provinces to emulate."
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MAP posted-by: Matt