Why Politicians Sound Tough While Liberalizing Ontario Pot Sales

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So the rhetoric was all about crackdown and toughness, even as the policymaking charged in the opposite direction, towards entrepreneurialism and better access for adults who want to buy and use the drug recreationally. Only under reporter questioning did Fedeli suggest less hawkish motives for the new provincial policy. “This is an opportunity for small business to get involved so we want to have as many participants as possible to get involved,” he said. Ontario's Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli speak about new legislation for selling marijuana, in Toronto, Wednesday September 26, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

The Ontario cabinet ministers appeared grim-faced and resolved to fight as they made their announcement against—at least it sounded like it was against—legal access to cannabis.

The province’s cannabis strategy, Attorney General Caroline Mulroney explained, is based on key elements like protecting roads, keeping pot from minors and tackling organized crime. The Tory stressed terms like “protect,” “serious health risks” and “strict prohibition”—the last of those an unintentionally apt term.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli pledged to bring “peace of mind to parents and families that when it comes to public health, safety, youth, will never compromise.”

The press release circulated alongside the statements was similarly dour: “Ontario to introduce legislation to move forward with tightly regulated private cannabis retail marketplace.”

But here’s the strange thing: the essence of the Ford government minister’s announcement was a dramatic liberalization of the approach to marijuana sales put forward by the former Ontario Liberal government. The Wynne Liberals had planned to start by opening 40 government-run stores; the new Ontario government, though it won’t have licences ready until April, will place no cap on how many stores private operators are allowed to open. The Liberals intended to ban pot-smoking in outdoor public spaces, treating it as the government liquor; the Tories will instead treat it like tobacco, letting people smoke on sidewalks and in parks.

So the rhetoric was all about crackdown and toughness, even as the policymaking charged in the opposite direction, towards entrepreneurialism and better access for adults who want to buy and use the drug recreationally. Only under reporter questioning did Fedeli suggest less hawkish motives for the new provincial policy. “This is an opportunity for small business to get involved so we want to have as many participants as possible to get involved,” he said.

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