Article by Robyn Urback, CBC News
Is it possible that the Ontario government will be the only entity in the history of civilization to actually lose money selling drugs?
Perhaps “only” is an exaggeration. We all knew that dealer in high school who smoked more than he sold, leaving him ultimately in the red. Or that guy whose mom found his stash and confiscated his product, compelling his frustrated customers to shop elsewhere.
But by and large, those who enter the marijuana business — which, for now, is still illegal — do so with the understanding that there is money to be made. Good money. The stuff practically sells itself, in fact.
Ontario has revealed what could quite possibly be the most complicated, cumbersome, expensive legalization plan conceivable — one that is certain to maintain the black market while at the same time burdening itself with massive overhead and organizational costs.
Instead of pursuing the cheaper, easier option of developing a licensing framework for existing dispensaries and taxing the revenue — sort of like the province does with tobacco sales and, to a lesser extent, The Beer Store — Ontario will create a new government-owned and -controlled enterprise, which will have a monopoly over pot sales in the province. As such, it will be responsible for everything: purchasing, distribution, retail space, training, payroll and so forth, following the existing framework of the province’s LCBO liquor stores.
The fatal assumption made by the province here is that a government-run marijuana monopoly will function the way its existing government-run alcohol monopoly does. It won’t. For starters, it’s much easier to produce your own marijuana than it is to distil your own vodka or make whiskey in your bathtub. Any idiot with a grow light and some seeds can do it — and they have been doing it for years.
That’s the second point: the last major black market for alcohol in Ontario died with the repeal of the Ontario Temperance Act in 1924. The LCBO works, for better or for worse, because it’s the only thing many of us have ever known. The government’s new pot monopoly, however, will have to compete with an already robust and flourishing black market.
One could argue that the LCBO, in its early days, had to compete with a robust and flourishing black market also, but that black market didn’t have the benefit of one-day shipping on Amazon Prime and private Facebook messaging. Today’s market might not be so easily extinguished.
In order for this government-run operation to eclipse the black market, its product needs to be at least as accessible and affordable as what is currently available to recreational users. By this scheme, it will be neither.
Ontario proposes opening just 40 retail outlets in the province in 2018, the first year marijuana would be legal (if it becomes legal, but that’s a separate discussion). By contrast, the government estimates there are around 70 to 80 dispensaries in Toronto alone, and those dispensaries typically don’t close at 6 p.m. on Sundays and on all statutory holidays.