Ontario Releases framework for Legalization of Cannabis

In response to the federal government’s plan to legalize cannabis by July 2018, Ontario is committing to a safe and sensible framework to govern the lawful use and retail of recreational cannabis as a carefully controlled substance within the province.

Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General, Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance and Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, announced today that legislation will be introduced later this fall, following the conclusion of provincewide consultations. Ontario’s approach to the legalization of cannabis will be informed by the province’s experience in managing tobacco and alcohol, as well as practical lessons of other jurisdictions that have recently legalized cannabis.

This approach will focus on ensuring a safe and sensible transition to federal legalization. Key elements include:

  • The proposed minimum age to use, purchase and possess recreational cannabis in Ontario will be 19. The use of recreational cannabis will be prohibited in public places and workplaces.
  • The LCBO will oversee the legal retail of cannabis in Ontario through new stand-alone cannabis stores and an online order service. This approach will ensure that there will be only one legal retail distributor for cannabis in Ontario and alcohol and cannabis are not sold alongside each other.
  • Approximately 150 standalone stores will be opened by 2020, including 80 by July 1, 2019, servicing all regions of the province. Online distribution will be available across the province from July 2018 onward.
  • Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers. The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations.
  • Ontario will prohibit individuals under the age of 19 from possessing or consuming recreational cannabis, which will allow police to confiscate small amounts of cannabis from young people. The province’s approach to protecting youth will focus on prevention, diversion, and harm reduction without unnecessarily bringing them into contact with the justice system.

The province will support young people and vulnerable populations through the development of an integrated prevention and harm reduction approach that would promote awareness of cannabis-related health harms and help people make informed decisions about use.  “We are committed to getting this transition right,” Sousa said.

The approach will also include education, health and social service providers that work with, and educate, youth and young adults.  Cannabis will only be allowed in private homes.   It has faced criticism from cannabis supporters such as Jodie Emery who tweeted according to CBC” When people who made legalization possible face life in prison and those who fought legalization profit from “legal” pot, something’s wrong.”

Others are questioning whether a stand-alone chain of stores is necessary.  “Considering the well-established network of LCBO stores across the province, and the well-established policies LCBO staff follow with respect to age of majority and Smart Serve, I don’t understand why the government wants to build another stand-alone entity for cannabis sales to the public,” Scott Leatherdale told the CBC.  Leatherdale is an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health and Health Systems, and the CIHR-PHAC Applied Public Health Research Chair in youth health.

Cannabis is scheduled to become legal July 1, 2018.  Ontario is the first province to present its frame work.