The government of Ontario has finally kicked its predecessor’s cannabis plan to the curb and announced that Ontarians will be able to buy legal recreational weed from private-sector retailers.
But the long-awaited privatization push for Canada’s most populous province comes with a significant catch: Ontario’s private cannabis stores won’t actually open until April 1, 2019. Until then, the only legal outlet for non-medical cannabis in Ontario will be an online sales portal operated by what remains of the public cannabis retailer.
Rielle Capler holds a PhD in public health with a focus on cannabis policy, and has researched cannabis dispensaries in Canada extensively. In other words, she knows a lot about how Canadians like to buy weed.
“On the one hand, I was very pleased to see Ontario support private retail. I think that’s really important in the long run for meeting the goals of (cannabis legalization),” Capler told The Leaf News.
Private retailers will stand a better chance capturing the whole market for cannabis, Capler believes.
“I think having some public stores can be OK as well, but I think private is really going to be the type of personalized service, the trust and rapport that people appreciate in their purchase experience,” she said.
According to Capler’s research, many medical cannabis users with legal access to medical cannabis via the internet still prefer buying in person at a store. She feels the six-month delay in retail cannabis stores for Ontario is too long.
“I think that we’re going to see some private retailers open up to fill the gap, aAnd that’s what we’ve always been seeing — where there’s gaps, people fill it,” she said.
During a Monday press conference Ontario finance minister Vic Fedeli spoke directly to existing illicit cannabis dispensaries in the province, especially those who might want to join the legal regime:
“Stop,” he said. “Stop now.”
The provincial government won’t want to do business with people running an illegal business, he added.
That might dissuade some current Ontario dispensary owners from operating after Oct. 17, Capler believes, but not all.
“I think people who have conviction, especially about the medical patients who they’re serving, I don’t know that it’s going to dissuade them. I think it’s going to put them in a really difficult position, ethically,” she said.
In the meantime, Ontarians who want to access cannabis legally will still have the online Ontario Cannabis Store. But Capler thinks some Ontarians might shy away from the government’s secure online portal, citing a deep-seated mistrust of government among many cannabis users.
“There’s a mistrust because of many years of prohibition. That lingers — it isn’t like we’re looking at a whole Canadian population of new cannabis users, these are people who have been using cannabis,” she said.
“Everybody’s looking for a legal route, but they want to find a legal route that feels safe to them, and (where) they can get the products and services that they want to get.”