Organized Crime and Border Security Minister Bill Blair says he thinks cannabis users sticking with the grey market can still be converted to buying legally.
That comes on the heels of a survey from Statistics Canada last week that shows a slight majority (54 per cent) of Canadians who use cannabis are still getting their pot from illegal sources, despite cannabis being legal across the country.
“I remain confident that as that new retail environment is built up by the provinces, as Ontario gets more stores opened and consumers have access to a product of competitive price and quality and choice, that they’ll make the legal and socially-responsible choice and a healthier choice,” he said in an interview with Global’s Eric Sorenson on the West Block.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau legalized cannabis on Oct. 17, 2018, but left the job of deciding how to sell it to the provinces.
Most opted for a mix of online and physical retail locations, either run privately or by a government control authority.
Until this month, Ontario was the only province without retail locations — consumers wanting to buy legal cannabis had to do so via credit card online.
And the combination of a lack of retail shops (which have been limited by the provinces), trepidation about buying online, a shortage of pot from legal producers and a slightly higher price have seen many Canadian cannabis users stick with the illegal dealers they already know.
Blair said the question of whether that continued use represents a failure “depends on your expectations.”
He noted the goal for the government was to create a framework to regulate cannabis so it would be harder to sell on the grey market, where the proceeds can allegedly fund criminal activity.
Despite the challenges faced by some provinces, Blair said the data indicating some Canadians are turning to the legal market means that goal is working, because their dollars are not going to illegal dealers.
“Some of them have a very quick progress. Others are a little bit slower in that progress and certainly they’ve experienced because it’s a new market, it’s a very new experience,” he said, adding that the lack of data from organized crime made it difficult to nail down many specifics in terms of what businesses and consumers should expect.
“The provinces and the [companies] have been working on how to establish appropriate supply chains for their consumers. It’s a process, not an event,” he said. “They’re learning and they’re growing and they’re making real progress.”
Even still, challenges remain.
Just last week, a dozen cannabis stores in Ontario were penalized by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission for failing to open on time.
Licences to open one of the 25 authorized retail shops in the province were handed out via lottery, but only 10 have opened so far.
Those that fail to open by the end of the month will face further penalties.