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                                Ontario’s Marijuana Plans: 

            “Walking on the Wild Side with Presbyterian Rules”

 

By Randall White

According to Rob Breakenridge from Calgary’s NewsTalk 770, “Ontario gets some credit for at least having announced a plan” to deal with the federal government’s promised legalization of marijuana as early as Canada Day 2018. 

Yet, not surprisingly, the plan itself—“Ontario Releases Safe and Sensible Framework To Manage Federal Legalization of Cannabis”—has been attacked by all the usual suspects. 

At the same time, just 10 days after it was released, and after hearing from various critics, the City of Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee voted 4-1 to endorse the government of Ontario plan. 

It is hard not to wonder: Will this kind of decision ultimately prove the decisive straw in the wind—in spite of all the criticism from other sources?

Whatever else, the “Safe and Sensible Framework to Manage Federal Legalization of Cannabis” reflects old Ontario values, with roots as far back as the later days of the roaring 1920s. 

Or, a cynic might say, the government has at least calculated that being on the old rather than the new side of these particular culture wars works best for the June 2018 provincial election.

The crux of the “Safe and Sensible Framework” is that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) will oversee the legal sale of cannabis in through new stand-alone cannabis stores, as well as an online order service—to customers 19 years and older, who cannot consume their purchases “in public places and workplaces.” 

The LCBO that plays such a key role in these plans was established in 1927, as a prudent way of ending the prohibition of alcoholic beverages under the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916.

The demon rum that became available for legal purchase in 1927 could only be obtained from a provincial government monopoly operated by the newly established LCBO.

From 1927 until 1962 LCBO customers needed liquor permits. And, as noted in a 1951 manual: “Store employees ... are expected to interest themselves in preventing ... immoderate sales.”

The current Mayor of Sarnia, Mike Bradley, echoed the old Ontario spirit of 1927 in his reaction to the Wynne government’s plans for marijuana sales in 2018.

“It seems to me it’s very Canadian ... We’re going to walk on the wild side ... with what I call Presbyterian rules” he said.  

There are also supporters of the LCBO-operated framework proposed by the government who have still have complaints about details.

Benedikt Fischer at the Institute of Mental Health Policy Research endorses “a provincial cannabis retail monopoly” with an age-limit of 19 years. But he worries about underage cannabis users. (He says among those 16 to 18, as many as two in five individuals are current users.) 

Fischer believes “we must find better ways to deal with this issue outside of the heavy hands of law enforcement” (as now envisioned).

Like other critics, Fischer also believes the current plan to restrict cannabis exclusively to private homes is “short-sighted and counter to public health objectives.” But he finally thinks both plans he worries about should, and can easily, be revised by July 2018.”

In fact, even Sarnia’s Presbyterian rules supporter Mayor Bradley believes that there are still many questions to be answered over the next nine months. 

Premier Wynne recently announced tougher penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana. Finance Minister Charles Sousa (to whom the LCBO reports) has been talking about setting a price for legal Ontario marijuana that weakens today’s black-market underground. 

Provincial plans call for a mere 40 stand-alone stores to open on Canada Day 2018 (rising to 80 stores in 2019 and 150 by 2020). NDP leader Andrea Horwath made a good if obvious point when she complained that the initial 40 stores would not do any immediate vast damage to local black markets.

Just five days after the announcement of the Safe and Sensible Framework, however, a Campaign Research online public opinion omnibus survey (conducted among a sample of 1133 Ontario voters) found that 51% “support legal marijuana being sold through the Cannabis Control Board of Ontario (CCBO).” Some 35% oppose and 14% have no opinion.

The same poll found that if the June 2018 Ontario election were held in the middle of September 2017, 38% would vote Progressive Conservative, 33% Liberal, 23% NDP, and 6% Green. (And the CCBO plan is more popular in the “Rest of Ontario” than in Toronto and the GTA!) 

It remains to be seen if Kathleen Wynne's Liberals have found the right balance between a modern marijuana market and a "Presbyterian" distribution system to satisfy Ontario voters.

 

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : September 25, 2017

View all of Randall White's columns
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