The Ontario government says marijuana will be sold online and through private retailers, not government-run stores as previously announced.
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney shared the details of the government’s plan during a news conference in Toronto Monday afternoon.
When marijuana becomes legal on Oct. 17, Ontario residents who are 19 and older will be able to buy marijuana through the Ontario Cannabis Store website. For those who order through the website, they must sign for the package.
The government also said consultations would begin immediately before a “tightly-regulated private retail model” for cannabis takes effect on April 1. The number of private retailers that will be licensed to sell marijuana hasn’t been determined. Fedeli said the Ontario Cannabis Store would act as a wholesaler to private businesses.
With news of the sale of cannabis through private establishments, it marks a departure from the previous Ontario Liberal government’s decision to sell marijuana at government-run outlets.
“The system we are proposing marks a significant departure from the approach of previous government. Implementing this approach will take time,” Fedeli said.
“We have to get this right and we will not be rushed. We will use this time to consult with businesses, consumer groups, public health organizations, municipalities, law enforcement and indigenous communities.”
Details on pricing weren’t included as part of the announcement.
The government said Ontario municipalities will be given a one-time chance to opt-out of allowing physical cannabis stores within each municipality’s boundaries. Approximately $40 million will given to local governments across the province over two years to help with costs associated with the legalization of marijuana.
Officials said retailers will have to follow “a series of provincial rules” that will restrict the sale of marijuana to people who are 19 and older. The consultations will also look at staff training requirements and the hours of sale.
A zero-tolerance policy, including escalating fines, was announced for “any retailers or dispensary who continues to operate in the illicit markets.”
“If a private retailer is caught selling cannabis to any underage buyer even once, their license is done and for those engaged in the underground today, our message is simple — stop,” Fedeli said.
An “official Ontario Cannabis retailer seal” is being proposed to help customers easily identified official sellers of cannabis.
New road safety laws and penalties dealing with drug-impaired driving in Ontario as well as places marijuana can be smoked are set to take effect on Oct. 17.
“There will strict penalties and escalating sanctions for anybody who drives under influence of cannabis and our police will the tools, resources and authority they need to enforce law,” Mulroney said.
“When recreational cannabis becomes legal in Ontario, the use of it in any public place, workplace or motorized vehicle, including cars and boats, will be strictly prohibited. It will only be legal to consume cannabis in a private residence.”
Mulroney also said up to four cannabis plants can be grown at a residence and people can carry up to 30 grams of dried cannabis while in public.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a written statement that her party supports selling cannabis through public-sector stores.
“LCBO staff have the experience and training to ensure socially responsible access. One of our main concerns has always been that the model selected by the government needs to push the criminal element out of the picture,” she said while also criticizing the previous Liberal government plan.
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“Doug Ford needs to make sure that the promised consultation on the private retail model is open, transparent and thorough and includes the voices of as many Ontarians as possible.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory’s office also issued a written statement in response to the announcement. He said he wants to review the proposal and consultations, adding safety must be the top priority.
“The Mayor supports legalization but has always said that support is conditional on three things: neighbourhood and family safety – especially kids – must be protected, public health must not be compromised, and Toronto cannot be burdened with the additional costs created by these changes,” spokesperson Don Peat wrote.
“Finance Minister Vic Fedeli made it clear that safety is the Ontario government’s top priority when it comes to cannabis sales. That is absolutely Mayor Tory’s top priority and he wants to see exact details on how that safety will be ensured before supporting a private retail model.”