Toronto

When marijuana becomes legal, what does that mean for Toronto?

The city will be urging the province to put controls in place and consider an LCBO-style mechanism for selling pot.

City will be urging province to put controls in place, consider LCBO-style mechanism

What happens in Toronto when marijuana becomes legal across the country? (CBC)

The Liberal government is announcing legislation next month that will legalize marijuana in Canada by July 1, 2018 — so what does that mean for Toronto?

As CBC News has learned, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair — who has been handling the marijuana file for the federal government — briefed the Liberal caucus on the roll-out plan and the legislation during caucus meetings over the weekend.

Now, local authorities and city councillors are weighing in on what impending legalization means for how people buy marijuana in Toronto, a city that's been a hotbed for tension between pop-up dispensaries and the police after the Liberals promised to introduce legislation by this spring.

They say little will change in terms of police crackdowns while marijuana remains illegal, but there will be a push from the city for the province to figure out ideal distribution methods.

In a year that's seen the Liberals taken to task on broken promises, legalizing marijuana would be a major promise kept, not to mention a potent tool to win approval with Canadians. 2:08

Dispensaries a source of tension

"As a city, we're frankly glad the federal government is getting on with it," said Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc. "It's been really difficult managing this hiatus period between the time the government announced that it was going to change legislation — and actually doing so."

The number of marijuana dispensaries across Toronto exploded in 2016, which caused concern among neighbours and led to a series of police raids, dozens of arrests, and the seizure of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana.

In January, Toronto police also stressed the level of violence associated with many robberies, including employees and customers at dispensaries being stabbed, pistol-whipped, and pepper-sprayed.

Toronto Police Spokesperson Mark Pugash says the news on marijuana legalization "does not change anything for Toronto Police." He says police will keep enforcing the law as it is until that law changes.

Toronto police officers raided Cannabis Culture on Church Street earlier this year. (Emma Kimmerly/CBC)

Should marijuana be on LCBO shelves?

Having clear rules about distribution is something city has been "longing for," said Mihevc, who is also chair of Toronto's Board of Health.

He said the city itself won't play much of a role in facilitating marijuana distribution, but does want to urge the province to ensure there are controls in place to avoid it being sold to minors, for instance.

"Marijuana is not like a cigarette," Mihevc said. "It is something that does intoxicate you."

The LCBO, he suggested, could be one of those possible mechanisms, which is something the province has indicated as well.

Back in 2015, premier Kathleen Wynne said it "makes a lot of sense" to use the LCBO to sell marijuana when it's legalized.

Joe Mihevc, chair of Toronto's Board of Health, said an LCBO-style mechanism could be a way to control distribution of marijuana. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Legalization 'exciting' for cannabis businesses

But Lisa Campbell, a spokesperson for the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, said the province should opt for a private storefront model that wouldn't sell both alcohol and cannabis.

"If we're going to be moving seriously towards legalization... not having cannabis in the LCBO is the number one recommendation," she said.

More generally, Campbell said having a timeline for legalization is "really exciting" for cannabis businesses in Canada.

"We're counting down the days for the next 16 months," she said, adding there is still a lot of clarification needed from the government as for how legalization will roll out.

"It's up to the provinces to set the minimum age for consumption, to set distribution and pricing," she said. "There's still a lot to be determined."

With files from David Cochrane