LCBO will handle weed sales in Ontario

The government will be the sole source of cannabis in the province through a web platform and 150 standalone stores.

The Ontario government has announced its first plans for the sale and distribution of legalized cannabis, and it will feel very familiar to anyone who has had to buy booze in the province.

At an announcement at Queen’s Park attended by Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Finance Charles Sousa and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins, the government announced that the LCBO (the crown corporation that distributes alcohol in the province) would have oversight over the sale of recreational cannabis when it is legalized next year.

Residents of Ontario will be able to purchase legal cannabis from a planned 150 new standalone storefronts run by the LCBO but physically separate from current locations. Initial reports said that 80 would be open by July 1, 2019 and an additional 70 by 2020. However, Finance Minister Sousa clarified during the announcement that 40 locations would be open next summer, with 80 open by the end of the year.

There will also be an LCBO-run online sales platform that is expected to be up and running by July 1, 2018 when legalization comes into effect.

By comparison, there are currently 651 government-run liquor stores and over 450 Beer Store locations across Ontario. In addition, there are more than 200 grocery store locations currently permitted to sell beer, cider and wine, with that number eventually increasing to 450.

Products in the cannabis stores will not be visible. Sousa said during the announcement that pricing and taxation would be determined this fall, but products would be priced in a way that it would eliminate the black market.

The Ontario government also announced a crackdown on hundreds of dispensaries across Ontario which have already been the subject of numerous police raids in recent years and will be forced to close within 12 months.

Ontario residents will only be able to purchase cannabis if they are 19 or older. That’s one year older than the federal government’s suggested age for cannabis sale, though in line with the province’s current minimum age for buying alcohol. And while the federal government’s suggestion is to allow those under 19 to possess small amounts of cannabis, the Ontario plan will prohibit possession altogether.

Consumption will only be legal within a private residence, though Naqvi said it may explore the possibility of licensing weed lounges at some point in the future.

Currently, legal cannabis is only available the those with a prescription delivered directly from one of the producers licensed by Health Canada. There has been no word as to whether direct sale from producers will be an option for consumers without a prescription once cannabis is legalized.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has previously expressed that she would be open to having the LCBO involved with legal cannabis sales in some way, pointing to the fact that it has an existing, highly regulated distribution system already in place with staff already trained in keeping minors from buying restricted products.

In a statement, George Soleas, president and CEO of the LCBO, said the crown corporation will be formalizing a cannabis team to guide its efforts and identify the tasks ahead of it before July 1.

“Even as we continue to focus on our existing alcohol business we will draw upon our decades of experience and work in partnership with the government to deliver on its objectives,” he said.

Legislation to legalize and regulate the sale and distribution of cannabis was introduced to the House of Commons in April, but decisions about exactly how it will be sold have been left to the provinces.

Ontario is the first province to publicly announce its plans for cannabis sales. Today is also the deadline in Manitoba for industry figures to give their feedback on cannabis distribution in that province after the government first initiated a search in July, mirroring stakeholder engagement processes that have taken place in other provinces.