Article by Benjamin Kates, iPolitics
Ontario’s new Premier is wasting no time in burnishing his free-market roots.
Word wafted out late last week that the Ford administration is considering a major shift in how it plans to regulate the sale of cannabis. Last fall, the Wynne government announced that Ontario would follow the LCBO model of a provincially-owed retail monopoly. Now, with legalization imminent (the federal government has set October 17 as the date), Premier Doug Ford is considering ditching Wynne’s Ontario Cannabis Store in favour of private dispensaries.
Privatization would appear a boon to burners. If legalization is to normalize recreational use, cannabis should be treated like other regulated consumer goods. While the LCBO may have made sense in the aftermath of prohibition, it has no business in the modern economy. Adopting this anachronism only feeds myths associated with cannabis consumption. Privately-owned dispensaries will help reduce stigma, while lowering prices and combating the remnants of the black market.
Private retail stores also promise a superior consumer experience. Medicinal cannabis dispensaries have operated in Ontario since the 1990s. The knowledgeable subculture that developed since has been bolstered by the “grey market” dispensaries that opened after Justin Trudeau was elected on a promise to legalize. Who better to serve as the face of Ontario’s budding industry than those most familiar with it?
Burn down the Ontario Cannabis Store, then? Not so fast, Cheech.
For all of its flaws, the provincial Liberals’ model had some benefits, chief of which is simplicity. The Trudeau government didn’t give the provinces much time to implement the biggest regulatory change in living memory. Given that it is far more complicated to regulate and license private dispensaries than it is to control a government-owned monopoly, introducing a retail market that harnessed the infrastructure of the LCBO was a pragmatic, if imperfect solution.