After months of waiting in limbo, the Ontario conservatives under Doug Ford have announced that recreational cannabis will be sold in private enterprises in 2019. This is a complete reversal of the Wynne government’s disastrous plan for government-owned and operated cannabis legalization.
This will undoubtedly open the door for the development of a number of domestic cannabis businesses to flourish within the province. As a result, a much-needed injection of cash into the Ontario economy is sure to follow. But with federal legalization around the corner and Ontario set for marijuana privatization in 2019, what is to happen in the meantime?
Questions, Comments, and Concerns
The Dispensary Issue
Since the announcement of legalization, a number of marijuana dispensaries have set up shop around Ontario. This has formed a sort of ‘grey market’ for distributing cannabis. Not entirely legal, but not quite the black market. These businesses are usually tolerated… However, periodic raids do occur and result in arrests on trafficking charges, temporary or permanent shut down of the enterprise and confiscation of valuable cannabis.
These enterprises could serve as valuable building blocks for the soon to be legal weed economy. Perhaps the wisest move would be to integrate them into the new order under the watchful eye of the state. But will they be treated as such? Or will they be regarded as existing outside legal parameters and therefore be barred from participating in this formative industry?
Justin Trudeau has stated that those with trafficking charges and other such offenses will not be allowed to participate in the weed industry. But on the subject of dispensaries and the new economy, he has been notably vague. Will the Federal Liberal change their minds? And if not, could the provincial government simply ignore this as an overreach of federal authority? Time will tell.
What Will Happen to the Black Market?
The end of alcohol prohibition ended the black market for booze. A fact that lawmakers have been a tad slow to recognize and drawing parallels with. To say that the 1930’s were a different time for drug dealing, however, might a bit of an understatement. Perhaps Al Capone would have been able to keep his underworld empire if he had the benefit of Amazon’s 3-day shipping. Fortunately, alcohol is such a well-regulated and enterprised drug that setting up a black market around it would be as futile as it is pointless. But that is simply not the case with weed.
Is the black market simply too well established at this point to go away? An illegal drug dealer no longer needs a storefront or a street corner to pedal their product… Only a computer and a little know how. While undoubtedly a lot of Canadians will choose convenience and legitimacy, others might not.
Additionally, the black market might turn its gaze abroad. Privatization within Ontario means an abundance of cheap legal weed. However, provinces such as Quebec, with it’s inefficient, poorly conceived system of distribution might be a prime target for dealers. The Couillard administration has stated that it may only set up 15 dispensaries province-wide.
The United States might also be an easy target. 9 of the 13 States bordering Canada do NOT allow recreational marijuana. With demand and ease of access, these could be the new destination for much of Canada’s black market weed. A similar venture exists within Colorado where the black market thrives on cross-border distribution.
Ultimately legalization is a great thing… The fact that it will be accompanied by privatization is even better. However, like any formative policy, there will be hiccups. Those listed above are just a few of the potential issues legalization might pose in Ontario. What other problems do you think might arise as a result of Doug Ford’s announcement?
By: Stefan Hosko