TORONTO – A day after announcing plans to sell recreational cannabis in private stores, the Ontario government said it was still working out how strict regulations governing the new system would be enforced.
Talks with municipalities will help the province determine the details, said the Progressive Conservatives, who stressed that public safety was a key component of the distribution system that alters the previous administration’s plan to have pot only in publicly owned outlets.
“We’re consulting with the municipalities today and there will be more information after our consultations,” said Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, adding that much depends on those discussions.
The province has said that recreational cannabis will initially only be sold online in Ontario when it is legalized on Oct. 17. A “tightly regulated” private retail model will then be in place by April 1, 2019.
The OCS will be the wholesaler to private retail stores, the government said, noting that retailers will have to follow strict rules, including prohibiting the sale of marijuana to anyone under 19.
Fedeli said the OCS, which until Monday had been in charge of setting up government-run pot stores planned under the former Liberal regime, had spent $6.7 million and hired 50 employees. The work done so far by the OCS will be re-directed to the new Tory plan and some of those employees will be transferred to other jobs in the public sector, he said.
The finance minister didn’t have an estimate for how much money the government would save by abandoning the publicly-owned model and letting private business shoulder the cost to set up pot shops.
“We’ll have more details when we announce the retail rollout,” he said. “But there’s considerable savings in terms of not building bricks and mortar stores across Ontario. The private retail sector will be responsible for the construction.”
Pat Vanini, executive director for the Association of Municipalities Ontario, said members of her organization have many questions about the government’s new plan and are eager to get answers with the legalization date looming.
Vanini said it may be difficult for municipalities to engage in pot-related consultations over the next few months as local elections are set to be held in the fall and new councils won’t be sworn in until December.
But, she said, local governments are eager to get plans in place.
“They know Oct. 17 is coming. They’ve got to be ready for that in some form or fashion anyway,” she said. “So, how do we drive to April and make it work as best as we can?”
Vanini said before the previous Liberal government had announced its public distribution plan, AMO’s members supported a private retail model, believing it would help give cities and towns more control over the burgeoning industry.
“Municipal governments would have an ability to direct where some of the better locations would be or where they shouldn’t be,” she said. “You could manage it through the planning process.”
AMO, which holds its annual conference in Ottawa next week, has long had a taskforce dedicated to investigating cannabis legalization and the latest Tory plan will be looked at closely, she said.
Chief among the association’s questions is whether $40 million in funding promised by the province for municipalities to support them through cannabis legalization will be enough to cover bylaw enforcement, public health services and other emergency call-related costs.
“We’re going to do the best we can with what we get,” she said. “Does it mean there won’t be some other impacts in terms of municipal expenditures? We don’t know that yet … There is skepticism that municipal costs will be totally met by the $40 million.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government has provided few details when it comes to its plan and she’s hopeful the consultations with municipalities will spell out in greater detail how enforcement will be managed and public safety will be achieved.
“We’re looking forward to hearing what their public consultation is going to look like,” she said. “We’re hoping that it’s going to be a public, open, transparent consultation that not only involves people and communities but also involves the legislative process.”
Liberal legislator Nathalie Des Rosiers said the Tories have launched what appears to be a complex plan that could result in a “mish-mash” of retail locations across the province. She added that municipalities may have to shoulder a large financial burden to enforce the new system.
“It’s unclear where the money will come from on the enforcement side, but also the public education side,” she said.
The legal age to buy recreational cannabis in Ontario will remain 19 and consumers will only be allowed to use legalized pot in a private residence, including the outdoor space of the home. The maximum amount of recreational marijuana an adult can possess will be 30 grams.
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