Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jan 2018
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Toronto Star
Author: Robert Benzie
Page: A2


Ontario will be biggest legal marijuana dealer in Canada, possibly in
entire world

Charles Sousa was half-joking about toking.

"I was with some high school buddies last week - you remember the guys
from high school - and they said to me, 'Who'd have thought it would
be you that would one day aspire to become the world's biggest pot
dealer?' " the Ontario finance minister said last fall.

"My parents would be so proud. I'm not so sure about my daughter,
who's sitting right here. But I guess it makes sense - I was raised in
Kensington Market," he quipped.

Sousa's lighthearted comments during a speech to the Toronto Region
Board of Trade in early November herald a significant

Indeed, by this time next year, Queen's Park will be the biggest
marijuana dealer in Canada - and perhaps the largest legal seller in
the world. (Unlike most jurisdictions where marijuana is legal - such
as California and Colorado, where private-sector outlets are allowed
to sell cannabis - Canada's most powerful provincial government will
enjoy total control over retail sales.)

When the federal government's legalization of recreational weed takes
effect in July, the Ontario government's new monopoly will kick into

The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, an LCBO subsidiary, will
operate 40 stand-alone marijuana shops as of next summer, rising to
150 outlets by 2020.

Fourteen municipalities will have the first stores: Toronto,
Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Hamilton, Barrie, Kingston, Kitchener,
London, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Windsor.

They will operate under retail branding still being developed and be
staffed by members of the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union,
which also represents Liquor Control Board of Ontario workers.

Like the LCBO stores of old - and the existing illegal dispensaries -
the product will only be sold from behind the counter and no
self-service is planned.

The provincial government will also control online sales so that
recreational weed is available in every corner of Ontario through the
Crown monopoly.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi warns the remaining "dispensaries" still
operating illegally in Toronto and other cities will be legislated out
of business. "We are committed to eliminating the illegal market and
taking down illegal cannabis storefronts," Naqvi says.

"These storefronts are not legal now and will not be legal retailers
under our . . . model. We know that establishing a safe and
responsible cannabis retail environment means providing
law-enforcement officials with the tools they need to put a stop to
the illegal sale of cannabis."

There will be cash fines for the black market operators - and their
landlords - of up to $1 million and jail terms that could last as long
as two years less a day.

Only those 19 and older will be permitted to buy, consume or grow
marijuana - and usage will be restricted to private homes.

Homegrown pot will be allowed, but only up to four cannabis plants can
be cultivated and just for personal use.

Smoking marijuana will continue to be outlawed in all public places,
offices, vehicles and boats. There will be stiffer penalties for
motorists who get behind the wheel under the influence of weed.

Amid the buzz swirling around legalized recreational weed, Naqvi
stresses the government is "mindful of the health impacts that
cannabis can have on all youth and young adults, even those between 19
and 25 who would be able to legally purchase and use recreational cannabis."

"To help protect all young Ontarians and give them the tools they need
to make responsible choices, it will be important to encourage honest
conversations about cannabis," the attorney general says.

"We are committed to developing a comprehensive prevention and harm
reduction approach that promotes awareness of cannabis-related health
harms and helps people make informed decisions about its use," says
Naqvi, a father of two young children.

"This approach will help education, health, youth and social service
providers who work to prevent and reduce the harms of substance use in
youth and young adults."

The Ontario government insists the new cannabis regimen will be
"revenue-neutral" because any cash bonanza from selling weed would be
offset by additional funding to police and municipalities as well as
education campaigns.

That doesn't mean the Queen's Park monopoly isn't trying to make a
buck or two, however.

Publicly owned weed stores will sell accessories and marijuana
paraphernalia, such as rolling papers, bongs, one-tokers and other
longtime head-shop staples.

But Sousa emphasizes it won't be the free-for-all that has been seen
since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced recreational weed would
be legalized two years ago.

"Walking down Kensington Market, where I was born, you can't help but
pass by storefronts selling cannabis; you can't help but see children,
as we walk along the streets, smelling cannabis," the treasurer says.

"Along with the federal government, our goal is to eliminate this
illegal market. In order to establish a safe and responsible cannabis
retail environment, it requires providing law enforcement officials
with the tools to put a stop to the illegal sale of cannabis."
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