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Union says Ontario pot store employees will be ready for legalization amid doubts – Toronto

The head of the union tapped to represent workers in Ontario cannabis stores says his members will be well-trained and ready to go by next July, the target date for federal legalization of recreational pot.

“Oh, we’ll be ready for it, don’t worry about that,” said Warren “Smokey” Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents staff of the provincially owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

On Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ontario will allow the sale of recreational marijuana only from government-run stand-alone outlets — starting next summer with 40 shops and growing to about 150 by 2020 — as well as a government website. The LCBO will operate the stores and website using OPSEU members.    

While conceding the timeline is “ambitious,” Thomas said there are many experts available from the medical marijuana industry to train his members in distribution, sales and product quality control.

He said he expects experienced workers from soon-to-be-outlawed private cannabis operations in Ontario will likely apply for those jobs so they can receive higher union wages.

‘Missing an opportunity’

But the president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries said he’s not so sure the government staff can be trained in time, adding he’s disappointed the government is “missing an opportunity” by cutting out existing operations and their experienced staff.

Jeremy Jacob said dispensaries require front-line workers to have a much more nuanced knowledge of their products than a typical LCBO outlet.

“What dispensary technicians do is determine the experience level, the tolerance someone has, and recommend appropriate products to ensure they have a good experience,” he said.

“That level of care and attention isn’t present in liquor stores and it’s not something where you can flip a switch and suddenly ensure people are getting the advice they need.”

Meanwhile, Greg Engel, CEO of Organigram, a licensed producer of medicinal cannabis, said the government’s target of training front-line staff by next July is “achievable and reasonable” and also vitally important.

“Having a knowledgeable staff that is able to convey what the expected effect is for individuals who are purchasing product and the duration of the effect and what they should experience and what’s right for them based on what they’re looking for, that’s critical,” he said.

Thomas said the 40 stores will likely require about 200 new union members and that could eventually grow to 1,000 or more. 

He said there’s no downside to the Ontario decision and encouraged other provinces to follow along.


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