Metro Morning

40 provincial pot shops to open by July, but questions about demand remain

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says the provincial government has had trouble determining how much demand there will be for marijuana when it opens 40 stand-alone stores in time for legalization next July.

Ontario Attorney General says the 40 shops, to be spread across province, are a 'starting point'

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says the province had trouble determining demand when it drew up plans for 40 stand-alone marijuana stores to be opened in time for legalization next July. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says that though the province will open 40 stand-alone marijuana stores by July 2018, he's still not sure how much demand for pot there will be. 

"It's interesting. Because marijuana has been up to now an illicit market, it's hard to determine demand. There are no real numbers," Naqvi told Metro Morning on Monday.

"In other jurisdictions, what we've seen is there has been a spike in demand, then it kind of drops and plateaus off. The LCBO is going to be doing a lot of business modelling," he said, calling the 40 stores "a starting point."

The Ontario government will look at where a large number of pot shops are located now to help it determine where to open up shop, and there will be stores across the province, he said. 
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi (left), Minister of Finance Charles Sousa (centre), and Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care (right) unveiled the marijuana plan on Friday. (CBC News)

On Friday, Ontario revealed its framework to manage the sale and use of marijuana, including an online ordering service and roughly 150 stand-alone stores by 2020. Both the "online channel" and stores will be run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

Under the plan, residents 19 or older will be able to purchase marijuana at separate retail outlets or through a website. Smoking of recreational cannabis will not be allowed in public places, cars and workplaces, and will be confined to private residences.

The province's stand-alone stores will only sell marijuana, not alcohol. 

Illegal pot shops must close

The plan means that illegal pot shops in Ontario will be shut down, with the province pursuing a coordinated strategy with local police forces, the OPP and the federal government.

Naqvi said Ontario's community safety and correctional services ministry will hold an enforcement summit with municipalities and police services, including the Ontario Provincial Police, about how to better coordinate the application of existing laws to ensure the illegal pot shops are shut down. Zoning will also be discussed.

"Of course, we are going to have to rely on police resources," he said "It's not going to happen overnight." 
Three large jars full of marijuana buds sit on the counter at a pot shop. Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says the province will 'rely on police resources' to ensure illegal pot shops are shut down. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Before revealing its framework on Friday, Naqvi said the government did research on how Colorado and Washington state fared following marijuana legalization and consulted with public health advocates, law enforcement agencies and community groups. 

"Since the federal government indicated that they would be moving towards legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, we've been working very hard, over more than a year now, to determine what that legalization would look like in the province of Ontario," he said. 

"What we heard, again and again, is that people want a safe and sensible approach, people want us to focus on protecting our youth and the vulnerable, they want to make sure that public health and road safety remain paramount, and there is emphasis on prevention and harm reduction. 

"So that product of all that deliberation was to have a government-controlled model."

Province considered selling pot through pharmacies

Naqvi said the government considered selling marijuana through pharmacies, which already sell controlled substances, but ultimately ruled it out because there didn't seem to be a "clear desire" from Ontario's pharmaceutical industry. 
Under the plan, residents 19 or older will be able to purchase marijuana at separate retail outlets or through a website run by the LCBO. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"There is no consensus within the pharmacy industry whether they should be in the business of selling cannabis for recreational purposes," he said. "Medicinal may be different."

Naqvi said cannabis is a "highly price-sensitive product." How to price the product correctly and tax it to ensure it remains competitive is a challenge, he added.

The federal government introduced legislation in April with a goal of legalizing and regulating the use of recreational pot by July 1, 2018, but left it up to individual provinces to design their own distribution system and usage regulations.

Navqi said after the interview that the Ontario's ministry of transportation is expected to roll out new provincial measures to curb driving while high. Offences involving impairment from marijuana will come under provincial legislation, not the Criminal Code, he said.

With files from the Canadian Press