While cities like Toronto are mobilizing to shut down illegal marijuana dispensaries, Ontarians in general have expressed significant support for the "gray market" business model. A Forum Research Poll conducted in late April found that the dispensary model was the favorite pick as the most desirable location for marijuana sales.
In total, 52 percent of respondents approved of dispensaries while only 34 percent disapproved and 14 percent weren't sure. In contrast, 51 percent approved of pharmacies selling marijuana, but 40 percent specifically disapproved of that model. Meanwhile, the majority of respondents rejected the idea of letting the LCBO - Ontario's chain of government-owned liquor stores - handle cannabis sales: 54 percent disapproved of that model and only 38 percent approved.
The poll asked 1,157 residents general-approval questions about cannabis without going into the intricacies of the medical versus recreational markets for marijuana.
To get some analysis of the poll results, we reached out to Lorne Bozinoff - President of Forum Research - to discuss the results. Here's what he had to say.
1. Familiarity breeds fondness for dispensaries
Ontarians appear to be getting more comfortable with dispensaries as more spring up in neighborhoods.
"There seems to be more dispensaries popping up in Toronto, so people may be more familiar with them," Bozinoff told Civilized, noting that one had recently opened in his own neighborhood. "Before, people didn't know where the dispensaries were, but they're more aware of them now."
Support for private marijuana retailers dipped from 57 percent in a Forum poll conducted last December to 52 percent in April, but Bozinoff thinks that discrepancy could be mitigated by a few factors. "[The five percent difference] is a little bit beyond the margin of error for samples over a thousand but not by much."
2. Marijuana legality is spotty
Nothing better captured just how unfamiliar Ontarians are with dispensaries than another Forum poll conducted in March, which found that 53 percent of Torontonians didn't know if dispensaries were legal or not. (They're illegal, incidentally.) Meanwhile 27 percent said they thought the dispensaries were legal, and only 18 percent knew that they weren't. Bozinoff says that confusion and uncertainty surrounding this issue stems from a dearth of available information available.
"There's been no public education campaign on how any of this works, so [people] have to make their own judgments based on available information. A lot didn't know because there wasn't much written about it in the media." He added that "since medical marijuana is legal," Ontarians might end up "making their own erroneous conclusions" that dispensaries are also legal.
3. Familiarity has bred contempt for the LCBO
Alright, "contempt" might be too strong of a word. But Bozinoff suggests that contemplating the LCBO model has soured Ontarians, whose support for letting liquor stores handle marijuana sales dropped from 44 to 38 percent between December and April. Bozinoff thinks that the drop off could reflect how attitudes have changed because the Liberal government didn't make a convincing argument for that model.
"The premier [Kathleen Wynne] discussing the LCBO distributing marijuana got people discussing that possibility. As the mulling over process began, the government, I don't think, made a very convincing pitch as to why the LCBO would be an appropriate channel."
4. Age is still the biggest deciding factor on the issue
It's no surprise that younger Ontarians are generally more favorable toward legalization than the older crowd. But that trend can influence data in other areas. In the breakdown of regional support, Southwestern Ontario was tied for the lowest approval rate (53 percent), and it stood out as the region that most disapproved of legalization (42 percent). Bozinoff thinks that age may play a role in those results.
"It's hard to tell with the margin of error at six or seven percent for smaller areas outside of the GTA," Bozinoff said. "But I would assume that there is more opposition in Southwestern Ontario. The main driver of opposition is age...It's possible that the average age in Southwestern Ontario is older than the rest of the province and that's what's causing that skew."
5. Marijuana could become a wedge issue
Marijuana could become a stumbling block for provincial and federal Tories, Bozinoff noted in regard to the results of this poll and others conducted by Forum on the issue.
"This topic has been brewing for many years. When Justin Trudeau said he planned to legalize marijuana - before he became prime minister - the Tories thought they had him in a gotcha moment, where he was way off base with the public. But it turns out that they were way off base."
More than half of Tory voters remain opposed to marijuana, but Ontarians in general are in favor of legalization. The Liberal and New Democrat supporters are in favour of legalization - with 71 and 69 percent support respectively.
"The Tories are not onboard...You have to wonder what sort of political discord legalization could create given that it's very hard for Tory politicians to accept this issue when the majority of their supporters don't. The Liberals could use that as a wedge issue to divide the party."
banner image: Shutterstock / Alexandru Nika