Marijuana will be legal in Canada come July 2018, but that doesn’t mean you can just buy and smoke pot anywhere.
Ontario is rolling out a plan to deal with the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana, and the big takeaway is that a subsidiary of the LCBO will be in charge of the process.
An estimated 150 stores across the province and a website will sell the product, all regulated by the liquor control board. Forty will be open by next summer and 80 by July 2019.
This is legalization, yes, but it’s not a wide-open market. Allowing a government monopoly to control the market comes with a few issues, although on the whole, it's a good starting point.
Availability is perhaps the first on that list. Only 150 standalone stores across Ontario aren't much compared to the 660 LCBOs. Anyone living outside of a major city will be left with fewer options: it's hard enough as it is to find an LCBO in Ontario if you live in rural areas.
Further, the illegal and incredibly resilient dispensary market already exists. In Toronto alone, there may be anywhere from 70 to 80 illegal dispensaries already. It seems inefficient to replace a popular, flexible and consumer-oriented system with heavily regulated bureaucracy.
On the other hand, clear, long-term benefits arise from handing the reins to the LCBO: consumer health, for example. Government-regulated marijuana is infinitely safer than the unregulated marijuana from street dealers.
The government also stands to profit hugely by taxing recreational marijuana: revenue that could be effectively redistributed into healthcare, law enforcement, etc. For comparison, LCBO alcohol sales in 2016 brought in $2.06 billion to the provincial government, an annual amount which has steadily increased for 23 years.
Then there's the issue of the black and grey market, which is not going to disappear overnight. The enormous and powerful infrastructure around marijuana, which encompasses everything from the dispensary business to drug cartels to domestic grow-ops, is unlikely to all be banished in one fell swoop. The restrictions or taxes on LCBO-mandated recreational marijuana might mean illegal marijuana remains enticing for a while to come.
Overall, these changes seem unlikely to radically affect Western students. Alcohol reigns as the vice of choice in this bar-dominated city. Perhaps a few more students will be smoking at house parties, but Western's no Woodstock.
It's a long, hard slog, but LCBO-mandated sale and distribution is a good first step — we were never going to see the doors thrown wide open to the marijuana market anyway. The organization will take some time to scale up and meet demands, and even longer for the black market to disappear, but that's to be expected with the slow-turning gears of government.