For­get pot brown­ies and ed­i­bles

The land­scape of le­gal cannabis sales is start­ing to take shape

Bayview Post - - Life - Lju­bica Kos­tovic is a cannabis con­sul­tant and lead­ing writer and speaker on is­sues re­lated to med­i­cal and recre­ational uses.

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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