Cannabis entrepreneurs may have found an unlikely ally in newly minted Ontario Premier Doug Ford's (PC). On the campaign trail, Ford expressed an openness to privatization and industry insiders are hopeful that he follows through.
The previous government of outgoing Premier Kathleen Wynne (Liberal) decided to set up Ontario's recreational cannabis market as a government-run monopoly. According to that plan, the only place for locals to legally purchase cannabis products when legalization comes into effect this fall would be from one of the provincially owned stores overseen by the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC). But, the newly elected premier has voiced opposition to this plan.
"I’ve always been open to a fair market, and I let the market dictate," Ford said last March. "I don’t like the government controlling anything no matter what it is."
And while Ford has yet to commit to a plan for cannabis retail, he has since stated he believes there may be a place for the OCRC after all. He added that he intends to consult municipalities, stakeholders, and his caucus before making his final decision.
This has led some people in the cannabis industry to believe that Ford will be opening the doors to private retail in Ontario.
"We’re preparing for a change in the province’s plan," said Jay Wilgar - CEO of the cannabis company Newstrike Resources. He's hopeful that Ford will adopt a system similar to that put in place in Alberta, where cannabis will be sold privately, and anti-monopoly measures will be put in place.
"There is a simplicity to the government model in terms of distribution, but in that system, producers tend to get ground down on price and product offerings," Wilgar added.
Meanwhile, Will Stewart - Vice-President of Corporate Communications for Hiku - would like to see Ontario follow the lead of British Columbia, where both public retailers will operate alongside private stores.
"We think there is a role for private and public-sector retail," Stewart said. "In that scenario, the work that has already been done by the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation would not go to waste."
Ontario, as well as the other provinces which have decided to implement public-only cannabis retail, have recently been receiving backlash from business that have established themselves in the current gray market for cannabis. Ford's election win could motivate these business owners to keep their illicit dispensaries open in hopes of being licensed in the near future by the Ontario government.