Total bong show
By Chad Ingram
Published Jan. 17, 2019
The legalization of marijuana in Ontario has been a bong show ... er, gong show, ever since the process began, and that continues to be the case.
Last week, the provincial government announced that communities with populations of less than 50,000 would not be eligible to apply to the lottery to win licences to allow for the operation of private marijuana retailers within their borders. That announcement, just the latest installment in a series of piecemeal policy surrounding the sale of legalized pot, came just weeks after municipal councils in Haliburton County spent time discussing, and uniformly opting in to, allowing private marijuana retailers to set up shop in the community.
The province had given all municipal councils a deadline of Jan. 22 to opt out, thereby prohibiting marijuana stores. Any municipalities that opted out would be given the option of opting in at a later date, but opting in meant no opting out later.
Now it seems, at least for the time being, the conversations had by municipal councils in the county in December were more or less moot, since, at least for now, small communities will not be permitted to have any marijuana retails outlets at all.
Of course, the chances of anyone in the municipalities of the county winning a retail licence were slim to begin with since, it was announced in December, that in the spring just 25 licences for the entire province would be made available, apparently due to a lack of supply of product. For the whole province. By comparison, including standalone LCBOs, agency stores, grocery stores, etc., there are more than 2,300 liquor retail locations in the province. Ostensibly, curbing the black market sale of marijuana was one of the goals of legalized marijuana, and, in Ontario, at least, it seems like that will not even begin to start any time soon.
Yes, part of the reason for the kerfuffle was the change in the government that happened following the provincial election last spring. While the Wynne government was planning a retail framework that involved provincially controlled standalone stores similar to the LCBO, the Ford government’s model has left the operation of physical marijuana retail outlets to the private sector, while the province sells pot online.
But the rollout of the plan, which seems to be made up as it goes along, has been full of plot twists that keep municipal councils struggling to keep up, and has surely caused a lot of confusion and disappointment for any Ontarians who hoped to be some of the first aboard the legal marijuana retail bandwagon.
Part of the responsibility for the mess also lies with the federal government, which of course was the level of government that actually made pot legal. However, it just sort of haphazardly passed the joint to provincial governments, assigning them the complicated task of creating and overseeing distribution frameworks.
In Ontario, that is a framework that could not even be considered half-baked.