Article by Robert Benzie, The Toronto Star
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 development.
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.)
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 legal 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,” says Naqvi.