If you’ve been wondering how the province will proceed with regulating and dispensing cannabis once the federal government follows through on its plan to legalize the substance next year, your questions are about to be answered.
In response to the plan to formally legalize cannabis by July 2018, the Government of Ontario has announced that it’s “committing to a safe and sensible framework to govern the lawful use and retail of recreational cannabis as a carefully controlled substance within the province.”
Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General, Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance and Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care just announced that legislation will be introduced later this fall, following the conclusion of province-wide consultations.
Key elements of its approach include:
- Queen’s Park may take ranked balloting system off the table
- Burlington will be new home for Brock University campus
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- The proposed minimum age to use, purchase and possess recreational cannabis in Ontario will be 19. The use of recreational cannabis will be prohibited in public places and workplaces.
- The LCBO will oversee the legal retail of cannabis in Ontario through new stand-alone cannabis stores and an online order service. This approach will ensure that there will be only one legal retail distributor for cannabis in Ontario and alcohol and cannabis are not sold alongside each other.
- Approximately 150 standalone stores will be opened by 2020, including 80 by July 1, 2019, servicing all regions of the province. Online distribution will be available across the province from July 2018 onward.
- Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers. The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations.
- Ontario will prohibit individuals under the age of 19 from possessing or consuming recreational cannabis, which will allow police to confiscate small amounts of cannabis from young people. The province’s approach to protecting youth will focus on prevention, diversion, and harm reduction without unnecessarily bringing them into contact with the justice system.
Some safeguards will be observed, as the provinces says it will support young and vulnerable populations through the development of an integrated prevention and harm reduction approach that will raise awareness of cannabis-related health harms. The approach will also include education, health and social service providers that work with youth and young adults.
Decisions with respect to pricing and taxation will be made at a later date.
The province says final decisions will be informed by focusing on discouraging consumption and eliminating the illegal market. The government also says it will undertake a public information campaign in coordination with the federal government.
Interestingly enough, Ontario is the first province or territory in Canada to publicly announce a comprehensive plan to regulate federally legalized cannabis. While some will certainly oppose the measure, it appears cannabis is a popular intoxicant. According to a 2015 report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 45 per cent of Ontario adults have used cannabis at least once in their lifetime, while about 15 per cent have used cannabis in the past year.
Cannabis is currently legal in eight U.S. states.
“We’ve heard people across Ontario are anxious about the federal legalization of cannabis,” says Naqvi. “The province is moving forward with a safe and sensible approach to legalization that will ensure we can keep our communities and roads safe, promote public health and harm reduction, and protect Ontario’s young people.”