Road to Legalization: Forget pot brownies and edibles

The landscape of legal cannabis sales is starting to take shape


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Luxurious dispensaries like Silverpeak in Colorado will not be possible under Ontario’s proposed system

The provincial government made a big announcement on Sept. 8 regarding the proposed regulations for the sale and distribution of recreational cannabis. Provided that the legalization bill passes on the federal level by July 1, 2018, the Ontario government has proposed a strict LCBO-based model involving the distribution and retail of cannabis by a subsidiary company or the Cannabis Control Board of Ontario (CCBO).

The Ontario government hopes to open 150 stand-alone stores by 2020, 80 by July 1, 2018, while also implementing an online distribution platform. These stores would exclusively sell cannabis, a provision that addresses the concerns of the possibility of cannabis and alcohol being consumed in tandem, as this can have potentially negative consequences. 

Inside the CCBO, trained staff would follow stringent guidelines to verify consumer age and provide over the counter service (similar to how tobacco is currently accessed), as well as education about responsible cannabis use. 

In the spirit of this highly rigorous framework, the Ontario government will take its direction from the feds for all things related to product offerings, packaging, advertising and restricting access for youth.

This proposed plan, although not surprising, has some worried about the future of the recreational cannabis market. 

“It’s not going to succeed. There are more dispensaries operating currently than the government plans to operate in the next one to three years,” says Jodie Emery, an outspoken voice on the issue and previously the owner of a chain of illegal retail dispensaries in Toronto and Vancouver under the name of Cannabis Culture. 

Emery’s belief that the proposed distribution model will not be able to compete with the current illicit market that has flourished since Prime Minister Trudeau’s initial announcement, in 2015, to federally legalize cannabis is shared by others in the industry. Further, Emery says, this plan will limit the opportunity for entrepreneurs, innovators and small business owners to participate in the market in a meaningful way. 

This outlook may appeal to that voice inside that longs to experience a less-controlled legalized regime, but it’s also essential to acknowledge that legalizing cannabis on both federal and provincial levels is a monumental task.  

Colorado, among other jurisdictions, has gone through several revisions to their approach over the last three years. Starting out with a significantly open policy, Colorado has since clamped down on the legal cannabis market. 

Although the LCBO-based model for rolling out the legalization of an adult-use cannabis market may not be the most popular option initially, it is a framework that will give the people of Ontario legal access to cannabis, and that, in and of itself, is an incredible thing. 

“Ultimately, we have to be happy with what we have. Just because it might be a bit restrictive doesn’t mean we can’t look at it as an opportunity for improvement,” says Ian Rapsey, the chief creative officer at Cannabis Wheaton. 

Rapsey is hopeful that the LCBO model could provide opportunities for brands and products to rise above the noise through innovation.  

Although the exact details of the proposed plan have yet to be ironed out, the province could be looking at providing an experience similar to alcohol.

Although you may not be able to buy weed brownies on July 1 next year, the Ontario government will need to address, over time, the issue of product diversity in order to compete with what is currently available on the illicit market. 

The conversation about how cannabis legalization will look in Ontario isn’t over just yet. In fact, it’s only just begun. 

But if you’re looking forward to legally acquiring your favourite infused products or a moon rock joint for the weekend, you’ll have to wait a little longer.

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Ljubica Kostovic is a cannabis advocate and the director of communications and research at a medical cannabis education service.

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