Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford says he sees a role for government-run stores in the sale of cannabis but will consult with his caucus and municipalities as he considers opening the market up to more private-sector involvement.
The province’s outgoing Liberal government had planned to give the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) a monopoly on the sale of recreational cannabis, with 40 stand-alone stores and online sales set to open this year under a subsidiary of the LCBO called the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS). Mr. Ford, who will be sworn in on June 29, said on Thursday he is open to changing his predecessor’s plans.
“I’ll be focusing on the LCBO, but I’m [eyeing] the private sector. I don’t believe government should stick their nose into everything,” Mr. Ford told reporters during an unrelated event outside a nuclear power station in Pickering, Ont.
The premier-designate said he would make a decision on the future of the government-run stores after talking with the province’s municipalities and the 75 members of his Progressive Conservative caucus. “But I also said that we’d keep it in the LCBOs because they have the structure already put together. Again, we’re going to tread carefully on this,” he said.
The federal government announced earlier this week that Canadians will be able to legally purchase recreational cannabis starting on Oct. 17.
While the federal Liberals had sought to allow legal sales this summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said legalization was pushed back at the request of provinces that needed more time to prepare. Mr. Ford seemed to echo those concerns on Thursday, when he warned he was concerned about the welfare of children after recreational marijuana is made available. “This is a path that the federal government has dumped on all the provinces,″ he said.
With plans to open 150 stores by 2020, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) has been preparing to open locations in 29 municipalities once pot is legalized. The LCBO subsidiary finished its first purchases of cannabis and accessories in May, continues to advertise heavily for new staff and has made the addresses of four of its first stores public. The LCBO did not respond to questions from The Globe and Mail on Thursday about how much it has already spent on the cannabis locations.
Ontario’s New Democrats, who have criticized the outgoing government’s plan for opening an insufficient number of stores to effectively depress illegal sales, said the Tories need to create a better system.
“Mr. Ford needs to show Ontario a plan that fixes the one [Premier] Kathleen Wynne messed up … the move to the legal sale of cannabis is something we have to get right, and that includes making legal sales socially responsible and also robust enough to push out the black market,” MPP Gilles Bisson said in a statement.
Despite his show of support for the LCBO, Mr. Ford criticized the monopoly’s decision to locate a cannabis store about 450 metres from a school in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.
“My priority is to make sure that we protect our children and we don’t make the mistakes of the previous Liberal government, putting a pot store right beside a school, which is absolutely ridiculous and it won’t happen under our administration,” Mr. Ford said.
After the location was announced by the Crown agency, Ms. Wynne said she would ask officials to investigate why a store was placed so close to a school. A number of experts pointed out at the time that nearly all of Toronto, with the exception of some large parks and industrial expanses, is within 450 metres of a school.