Pubdate: Tue, 07 Nov 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Martin Regg Cohn
Page: A12


There are still some big questions and concerns to figure out before
July 1

The end of Prohibition gave birth to the LCBO nearly a century

Now the legalization of marijuana is giving rise to the OCRC: Ontario
Cannabis Retail Corporation.

That's about as awkward an acronym - if not anachronism - as the
Liquor Control Board of Ontario. While today's LCBO has become a brand
in its own right, it's fair to say the OCRC will never become a
household word.

Leery of being branded a bunch of fuddy duddies - especially when all
the critics try to sound so hip - Liberal cabinet ministers went out
of their way this week to stress that the title is just a corporate
placeholder. The government has promised a proper rebranding when the
first 40 outlets open with a less lumbering name next July 1.

That's when cannabis consumption goes legitimate across Canada. Yet
after a year of provincial preparations, and barely eight months until
people start lighting up legally, we remain in the dark on key questions.

It's not just the future name (surely not The Weed Store) but the
storefront locations that remain a mystery.

We got a hint Friday when the government announced the first 14 cities
selected for retail recreational marijuana (but no specific GPS
co-ordinates yet for readers to search on Google Maps).

By 2020 Ontario will have 150 rebranded OCRC outlets open for
business. Despite the impatience of pot smokers, the government's
go-slow rollout looks more realistic when you consider some of the

How do you square commercial demand with social concerns, notably
nearby schools? For example, Toronto's Yonge and Eglinton area is a
major shopping and transit hub that cries out for a storefront, but
it's also surrounded by several schools where students hang out. Good
luck to politicians trying to reconcile pot smokers with parents, not
just in big cities like Toronto - with about 700 elementary schools
and 140 high schools - but in rural redoubts.

For all the clamour from critics who dream of cannabis in every corner
store, people tend to overlook the online component of the OCRC,
enabling customers to place orders for delivery anywhere in the
province. Not quite Amazon (delivery drivers will require ID with
proof of age, and won't leave packages at the door), but better than
bricks and mortar in some ways. After all, retail outlets will require
you to line up at a counter - no self-serve aisles for browsing - just
like the old days when drinkers had to submit their booze orders to
LCBO staff (and not unlike today's illegal drug dispensaries, soon to
be shuttered).

By sticking to 19 as the minimum age for marijuana, in line with the
provincial drinking age, Ontario is departing from the federal minimum
of 18. But with all the evidence of cannabis affecting the developing
brains of young people, it only makes sense to avoid giving kids a
head start with pot over booze.

Recreational users of all ages will be confined to their own homes,
which seems only fair given the effects of second-hand smoke and
marijuana odours. Legalization will embolden some to light up in
public, generating a future flashpoint not unlike the effects of
cigar-smoking and pipe-smoking in the past. Neighbours living in
apartments, condos and semi-detached homes will have to figure out a
modus vivendi.

The biggest uncertainty lies on our roads. After decades of research
we know how alcohol impairs drivers, yet we are only beginning to
understand the (varying) impacts of cannabis on consumers. The
government has increased punishments for driving while under the
influence, yet there will assuredly be accidents and heartbreaks ahead.

We need to keep the problems in perspective, by bearing in mind the
legacy of prohibition. As cannabis takes root, let's not forget how it
was driven underground in the past.

Underage kids bought dope of questionable quality from pushers close
to their schools, smokers drove their neighbours crazy, and people
drove while stoned. The government points to a roadside survey in 2014
showing more than twice as many drivers tested positive for drugs
compared to those under the influence of alcohol.

Drug use was always there, we were just less aware. No one knows how
much cannabis consumption will increase next year, but we do know that
legalization offers an opportunity to educate and regulate in a way we
never could under prohibition and criminalization.

It's easy for hipster pundits to mock Ontario's go-slow approach,
caricaturing it as a hang-up from Loyalist and Victorian times. And it
will be tempting for opponents of legalization to say we told you so,
nostalgic for the status quo ante.

Recent polling shows public opinion more or less supports an LCBO-OCRC
model controlled by government. And recognizes that the time has come
for people to roll their own joints legally.

That doesn't mean we need to roll out retail stores in record time.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt