The Hamilton Spectator
Marijuana to be sold in LCBO-run stores when legalized next year
Hamilton pot dispensaries decry Liberal announcement, vow to stay in business
TORONTO — Ontario is the first province out of the gate with a detailed plan to sell and distribute recreational marijuana when Ottawa legalizes it next summer.
The plan comes with a government vow to shut down illegal storefront pot shops in cities across the province — a move Hamilton dispensary advocates vowed to fight.
The Liberal government announced Friday that it will sell marijuana in as many as 150 dedicated stores run by the province’s liquor control board. Those looking to purchase marijuana when it becomes legal across the country will be subject to the same age and usage restrictions currently in place for alcohol, said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.
The process of purchasing recreational cannabis will closely mimic the one currently in place at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Naqvi said residents 19 or older will be able to purchase marijuana at separate retail outlets or through a website run by the LCBO that should be ready for business next July.
Consumption of legal weed will not be allowed in public spaces or workplaces and should be confined to private residences, Naqvi said. However, he said the government will explore the possi-
bility of allowing marijuana-licensed establishments in the future.
The province expects to have all the stores operational by 2020, with the first 40 stores opening next summer. Those stores will only sell marijuana, not alcohol.
One of the government’s priorities, Naqvi said, involves clamping down on illegal distribution channels. He made it clear that will include dispensaries that have cropped up in recent months in anticipation of widespread legalization.
“Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not legal now and will not be legal retailers under the new model,” Naqvi said. “... These pot dispensaries are illegal and will be shut down. If you operate one of these facilities, consider yourself on notice.”
Tamara Hirsch, spokesperson for two Pacifico Life marijuana dispensaries in Hamilton, said the government-run outlets “won’t come close” to meeting demand for recreational and medicinal-use pot purchased now through privately run pot shops.
“I’m hearing them talk about regulation and who controls the money. I’m not hearing them talk about medical needs and human rights,” she said.
Despite the provincial warning, Hirsch said there are no plans for Pacifico to close down its Westdale and James Street sites.
She said neither business has been raided so far, unlike many of the 17-plus such storefront shops in Hamilton, but acknowledged a new wave of police shutdowns is likely. “I think people who get into this industry in this time of transition … see it as a cost of doing business,” she said.
Advocate Britney Guerra, who previously owned a local dispensary before it was raided, said she was disappointed by the “corporate government takeover” that she argued ignores public support for private shops offering more choice.
But she expressed hope a recent court decision preventing the city from permanently shutting down the Hamilton Village Dispensary will spur a new round of “constitutional challenges” needed to change government policy. “We’ll keep it up until they (the government) give up,” she said.
The federal government introduced legislation in April with a goal of legalizing and regulating the use of recreational pot by July 1, 2018, but left it up to individual provinces to design their own distribution system and usage regulations.
Asked about expected revenues, Finance Minister Charles Sousa could provide no estimates, saying the market conditions and federal tax levels will affect the bottom line and are unclear.
“Frankly, this is uncharted territory and we’re going to have to monitor it and see how it develops,” Sousa said.
He said the government has been working on the pot file for about a year. “We are running out of time,” he said. “We have to be prepared by next year.”