It seems like only a year and a half ago that one couldn’t stroll along a major street in Toronto without happening upon an unlicensed marijuana dispensary. Oh, wait…that was only a year and a half ago!
And now that the Ontario government is dead set on being the province’s only pot purveyor, well, it’s bad news for mom and pop weed shops.
The “Cannabis, Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statute Law Amendment Act” (or Bill 174), sets out that “no person is permitted to sell cannabis” and there will be stiff penalties for anyone that dares to deal.
As of next summer, only the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp. (overseen by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario) has “the exclusive right to sell cannabis in Ontario.”
If the law passes, any company caught selling cannabis could be fined between $25,000 and $1 million, or a jail term of two years less a day. For every subsequent conviction, they can accrue a fine of between $10,000 and $500,000 a day. The genuinely unlucky among them may receive both a penalty and the jail term. The law gives police the power to immediately close any premises they suspect is a cover for the illegal sale or distribution of marijuana.
Some Ontario municipalities are expressing concern that they will have to foot the enforcement bills for shutting down dispensaries, but not Toronto mayor, John Tory. “These shops, to the best of my knowledge, are illegal, have always been illegal, will continue to be illegal and are not contemplated as being part of the regime going forward,” he said.
If the province’s figures are correct, that the illegal cannabis market is about $7 billion annually, it’s hard to imagine that customers will be satisfied by a weed-by-mail system, and the limited number of actual brick and mortar stores promised by Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynn. The province is already planning the locations of 40 stores to be open by summer 2018, with a total of 150 shops set to open over the following two years.
Savvy canna-biz entrepreneurs already know that the thirst for cannabis can’t be quenched by this plan alone, but to continue operating could put them in more danger of persecution than ever before.
As it stands, the only glimmer of hope is the one section of the proposed law that leaves it open for the Ontario cannabis corporation to open agency stores, as the LCBO does with some grocery stores and other select establishments in small towns across the province.
The rules to regulate and tax marijuana, as well as those to punish illegal dispensaries, take effect once the Canadian government legalizes non-medical marijuana next July.