Private cannabis retailers move into Ontario despite uncertainty

The clock is ticking down to legalization, but the new government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford hasn't released any new details about its plan to privatize cannabis sales. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)

The clock is ticking down to legalization, but the new government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford hasn't released any new details about its plan to privatize cannabis sales. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)

When we last checked in with Ontario, the province's new government had leaked details of its game-changing, last-minute plan to do away with the Ontario Cannabis Store in favour of the private-sector.

Some industry insiders expected Premier Doug Ford's government to release its private retail framework today — but so far, Queen's Park has been all quiet on the cannabis front. On Monday, Ontario finance minister Vic Fedeli told the Toronto Star that the province will have a retail system ready to go by October 17, but offered few details about what that system will actually look like.

To add to the confusion, a new report from Global News says Ontario is, in fact, continuing to hire retail workers for Ontario Cannabis Store locations in 27 communities across the province. That raises the possibility that Ontario could allow private cannabis sales alongside a government-operated retailer, according to the article by Patrick Cain.

A public-private mix would offer some relief for one unhappy Ontarian: Warren "Smokey" Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, whose members would presumably staff any government-operated cannabis business.

Thomas raged against the dying of the OCS last week, decrying Ford's reported move to privatize cannabis sales as "a bonanza for organized crime" in a smouldering press release that suggested only publicly-operated cannabis stores will be able to keep the drug out of kids' curious little hands. Warren even went as far as suggesting Ford's decision to privatize cannabis sales was made "after consultation with the criminal element."

In a press release today, though, Smokey sent a very different signal:

"If the premier really believes in competition, why doesn't he open the public stores alongside the private stores?" he said.

"After a year, we'll see if the people prefer the profit-driven privates or the high-quality public outlets."

The private sector would likely be happy to take that bet — and some businesses aren't waiting for a formal announcement from the province before they start throwing money into Ontario.

Starbuds Canada, a partnership between U.S.-based dispensary chain Starbuds and Canada's Compass Cannabis Clinic, announced today that it has locked down Ontario real estate for future locations.

In an interview with The Leaf News, Starbuds Canada and Compass Cannabis Clinic president Dave Martyn said the company had secured three locations in the province and was "in discussions for at least a dozen more."

"There is some risk that these won't become retail, but in the event they do not become retail locations, ultimately we'll roll out a (medical) cannabis clinic network," Martyn said.

As for the possibility that Starbuds Canada stores might have to compete against Ontario Cannabis Stores, Martyn said he's not worried.

"The government never does anything better than private retail," he said.

"I understand that they've got jobs to fight for within the unions in Ontario, but private retail will absolutely hand it to crown corporations."

New on The Leaf

  • Patrick Sison / The Associated Press files (Patrick Sison / The Associated Press files)

    Patrick Sison / The Associated Press files

    Criminalization to continue: Despite cannabis legalization, Ottawa has no plans to decriminalize "harder" drugs.
  • Joining forces: Insurer Manulife is teaming up with pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart to offer a medical cannabis program for some group and individual health benefits plans.
  • Bigger fish to fry: Cannabis legalization in some U.S. states has freed law enforcement pursue more serious crimes, suggests a new study.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Bruce Bumstead / Brandon Sun files (Bruce Bumstead/Brandon Sun files)

    Bruce Bumstead / Brandon Sun files

    Coming soon to a police cruiser near you: A German-made device could be the first approved saliva screener for detecting traces of THC and cocaine in drivers' mouths, writes Brian Platt for the National Post.
  • Not-so-great expectations: A stock analyst expects initial sales of legal cannabis in Canada to suffer from botched provincial retail rollouts, reports Jen Skerritt for Bloomberg.
  • A public affair: Politicians in Burnaby, B.C. are considering government cannabis stores only, at least to start.


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