On September 8, Ontario announced its much-anticipated framework for the distribution and sale of recreational cannabis. This announcement makes Ontario the first province to outline a comprehensive response to the federal government's plan to legalize cannabis by July 2018. Ontario’s proposed approach largely mirrors the province’s approach to the sale of alcohol and tobacco.
Recreational cannabis sales will be overseen by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). However, you won’t be seeing cannabis in your local liquor store anytime soon. Instead, recreational cannabis will available in new stand-alone, brick-and-mortar stores that are LCBO subsidiaries, and through an online ordering service.
By July 2018, the province expects that 40 stores and online ordering will be operational. The province then plans to gradually add stores, reaching 80 by July 2019 and 150 by July 2020.
Like alcohol and tobacco, the minimum age to purchase, possess and use recreational cannabis in Ontario will be set at 19.
Ontarians will not be able to use recreational cannabis in public places, at work, or in motor vehicles.
In terms of retail experience, cannabis will be sold in much the same way as tobacco. Stores will follow a “behind-the-counter” model, and self-service will not be available.
Impact on the current distribution models
Ontario’s proposed framework confirms that the federal medical cannabis program will remain in place.
Additionally, the province will be pursuing a coordinated strategy aimed at shutting down all illicit cannabis dispensaries.
What we don’t know
While Ontario’s announcement gives us more information than we currently have for other provinces, there’s much we still don’t know:
Pricing and Taxation: Decisions on pricing and taxation will be made after further details are provided by the federal government. However, both levels of government have indicated that discouraging black market sales will be a key consideration in pricing strategy.
Store Locations: Before determining store locations, Ontario will work with municipalities to ensure community priorities are respected.
Designated establishments: Ontario has indicated that designated establishments for recreational cannabis consumption may be established in the future.
The Government of Ontario plans to publish official cannabis legislation later this year after engaging in consultations on the proposed framework with municipalities, Indigenous communities, and stakeholders.
The author would like to thank Samuel Keen, articling student, for his assistance in preparing this legal update.