Pot plan good for business: retailer
Paul Sieger, of Paul's Para Fernalia in Orillia, welcomes the boon marijuana legalization will be for his business. (PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES)
The Ontario government is going to pot.
The province announced Wednesday it plans to replace drug dealers and dispensaries next year when recreational marijuana use is set to be legalized in Canada. Legislation will be introduced at Queen’s Park later in the fall that will make the government the only legal retail distributor for cannabis in Ontario.
The stores will be under the purview of the LCBO. However, alcohol and marijuana will not be sold side by side.
“We are committed to getting this transition right,” Charles Sousa, Ontario’s minister of finance, said in a news release announcing the policy. “When it comes to retail distribution, the LCBO has the expertise, experience and insight to ensure careful control of cannabis, helping us to discourage illicit market activity and see that illegal dispensaries are shut down.”
The province’s action is fairly aligned with how Paul Sieger, of Paul’s Para Fernalia in Orillia, predicted the legalization of marijuana would look like.
“Realistically, it is the only way they can maintain the integrity of the product,” he said. “A stand-alone building is the only way they can do it. They’re going to have to fortify it; they’re going to have to have a big enough storage area (that’s) climate controlled; (and) it has to be maintained.”
But keeping the marijuana — and those selling it — safe is only part of the equation. Having that overarching body can help ensure the quality and the strength of the product is up to snuff for public consumption.
As for the future of his business, he’s not worried.
“I’m not a dispensary,” he said, plainly.
What he sells is the paraphernalia required to consume marijuana products. Soon, he imagines every corner store will, too, but he hopes the credibility he’s built up over the past two years in business will be to his benefit.
“I think it’s going to make it better for us, because people are going to have to use products in order to smoke it,” Sieger said. “You need vapourizers, water pipes, bongs, rolling papers — whatever people use. There’s all these different methods. People have to have a choice.”
Under the province’s proposed plan, no one younger than 19 can legally consume marijuana — the same age of majority dictating alcohol and tobacco consumption. Police will be allowed to confiscate small amounts of marijuana from minors, in tune with a provincial approach to protecting youth, focused on prevention, diversion, and harm reduction without unnecessarily bringing them into contact with the justice system.
While the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit had called for 21 to be the legal pot-smoking age, the organization is largely satisfied by the proposal from the province.
“On the whole, we’re very pleased about the government’s plans for strong controls,” said Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer of health. “We’re happy to see the announcement of a government-owned and -controlled system for access through a subsidiarity of the LCBO and at the same time that cannabis will sold separately from alcohol by trained staff.”
Yet, there are still areas of concern. On the surface, banning pot smoking in public spaces and workplaces is a move in the right direction, Simon said, but she wonders where that will send the smokers.
“They’re saying at this point that smoking and vaping of cannabis can only be done in private settings; the only concern there is that you’re pushing all use indoors,” Simon said. “Even if it’s in a private dwelling, second- and third-hand smoke is still a concern, particularly if you live in a multi-unit dwelling — an apartment or a condo — where you don’t have a private outdoor space.”
By 2020, 150 marijuana stores are expected to be open in the province, the first 80 of which should be operational by July 1, 2019. Online distribution will be available in Ontario as of July 2018, provided the federal government’s legalization process goes to plan.
However, by the time pot can be smoked without fear of reprisal, the governing Liberals might have been evicted from Queen’s Park. The next provincial election is in June, and the official Opposition is leery the Liberal plan won’t go up in smoke before then.
“We remain concerned about issues of public safety, including ensuring that there are strong measures to crack down on drug-impaired driving,” Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock and PC critic for community safety, said in an email. “Likewise, there have been a variety of concerns raised by public health officials and community members.”
Scott’s response was sent by the party following a request for comment from PC Leader and Simcoe North MPP Patrick Brown, who was on an international flight and unavailable, according to party press secretary Nick Bergamini.
“We are calling on the Kathleen Wynne government to ensure that law enforcement, public health and local communities are properly consulted and have the tools they need as the Liberals roll out out this proposal,” Scott continued. “Unfortunately, we don’t trust the Wynne Liberals to get this right.”