Cannabis in the Ontario election hasn’t been a hot-topic issue. Other issues have made the headlines with inflation, home prices, COVID deaths in nursing homes, and Doug Ford’s overall track record. But all that changed this week when Ontario Liberal Leader Stephen Del Duca criticized Doug Ford’s retail cannabis record. He called it “random” and “arbitrary.”
How Cannabis Works in Ontario
Cannabis in Ontario is relatively straightforward. The province has a cannabis monopoly distributor. Called the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), they are also the only legal seller of cannabis online. For the brick and mortar counterparts, the province handles the regulations. Still, some of the licensing are under municipal authority. As of 2022, forty-five of the 415 municipalities in Ontario have opted for no cannabis shops.
However, municipalities have complained they have no control over the location of stores. Others complain about the sheer number of shops. It seems that councillors don’t care when there’s a Tim Hortons every fifteen-feet threatening local coffee shops. But heaven forbid a town of 2000 people has more than two cannabis shops.
When cannabis in Ontario was new and upcoming, Doug Ford’s Conservatives didn’t lead the province. The Liberal Party ran the province under Kathleen Wynne. Her government didn’t want private cannabis retail stores at all. She tried to follow the liquor example of having everything go through the government bureaucracy.
The alternative gives consumers far more choice and convenience. But, to someone who loves central planning and control, the proliferation of Ontario‘s cannabis shops could seem “random” and “arbitrary.”
The Liberal Plan
Del Duca wants to pass laws that require minimum distancing between cannabis stores. Will that grandfather in the current stores? If not, Del Duca is essentially running on a platform of shutting down functioning businesses due to his aesthetic tastes.
The NDP Plan
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath echoed Del Duca’s stance but went further with her desire for control. She said an NDP Ontario government would review the cannabis file and possibly limit the number of stores altogether.
There are a lot of cannabis stores in Ontario. It’s possibly a bubble that will burst, leaving behind only a few operational. But it’s also possible that this is the market equilibrium for cannabis in Ontario. There may be room for more. It could be Ontario cannabis consumers really can support a market where there’s a cannabis shop on every corner.
Who is Andrea Horwath to tell consumers that they’re wrong?
In fairness, the NDP plan isn’t all terrible. Toronto’s Dovercourt MPP Marit Stiles tabled a bill before the election to give municipalities more power in regulating cannabis shops. “We should have a process similar to what municipalities have for liquor licences,” Stiles told the Globe and Mail.
The Conservative Plan
Cannabis in Ontario looks the way it does because Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford took a hands-off approach to retail. “It doesn’t matter if it’s cannabis or another type of the store, the market will take care of it,” Ford said at a campaign stop.
Nothing much has been said or done besides this. Many Ontario residents are discovering that Ford isn’t the free-market conservative many were hoping for. But he’s also not the same kind of control freak you find with the Liberals or NDP. (Although COVID proved Ford has no backbone whatsoever).
Overall, Ford’s PC party is a vote for the status quo. And while there could be some drastic improvements with cannabis in Ontario, right now, Ford’s status quo is better than the unknowns of the opposition.
The Green Plan
You’d think the Green Party would get it. Cannabis in Ontario isn’t just about smoking weed. Crafting cannabis policy should go beyond “working with municipalities to ensure that the placement and number of cannabis shops are matched to the size of their communities.” Which is all they’ve said on the matter.
The Green Party of Ontario says it would aim to improve education on cannabis. But in their 64-page platform, there is no reference to cannabis whatsoever.
Are they insane?
What Cannabis in Ontario Should Look Like
When it comes to cannabis in Ontario, there is only so much the provincial government can do. Cannabis is a federally regulated substance. But just as British Columbia should be denouncing federal intervention into their staple industry, Ontario should be fighting for greater control.
Why? Simple: cannabis can save the world. And this is why the Green Party is throwing away an opportunity of a lifetime.
Consider the late 1990s. The Green Party was the only real party talking about environmental regulations. The major political parties focused on other issues. It wasn’t until closer to 2010 than 2000 that major parties started to discuss carbon taxes and other issues once reserved for the Green Party platform.
Now they can do the same with hemp and cannabis.
Every four months, hemp produces more pulp per acre than timber. And it does this on a sustainable basis. Hemp’s low lignin content reduces the need for acids used in pulping. Its natural colour reduces the need for bleaching and reduces wastewater contamination.
Manufacturing paper results in fewer chemical by-products when done with hemp.
What about petroleum-based plastics that end up in the ocean and never biodegrade? Entrepreneurs can use hemp/cannabis for plastics, which by the way, are biodegradable and non-toxic.
Hemp fibre is UV resistant and antimicrobial, requiring less water and fewer pesticides to grow than cotton.
No one needs to go hungry when we grow hemp. And through biodiesel, we can power our cars and heat our homes with hemp.
Cannabis in the Ontario Election
Suppose you’re a cannabis connoisseur unhappy about Ontario‘s legal model. In that case, there isn’t much about this election that will sway you. The Liberals and NDP didn’t want a private seller model, but now that it’s here, they want to limit its size and potential.
Doug Ford won’t address the fundamental problems with the cannabis industry in Canada. But he’ll pay lip service to market forces, however unfree they are.
And the Green Party, just like their federal counterparts, seems to be content with fading into oblivion. It is another wasted opportunity to differentiate themselves from the other parties calling for environmental sustainability.
The Green Party could transform itself into a solution-based party. And hemp/cannabis is the most versatile plant to achieve our industry goals. If fossil fuels are red meat, then hemp is the plant-based alternative.
But instead, we get a platform that reads like the NDP platform, except in green text instead of orange.