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Business Lobby Tells Ontario Premier To Consider Privately Owned Cannabis Retailers

Don't give government-owned liquor stores a monopoly over recreational marijuana. That's the message Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne received this week from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), a non-partisan group that lobbies the provincial government on behalf of the business community. The influential group could convince Wynne to rethink her stance on where and how marijuana is sold.

Ever since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government would legalize marijuana, Premier Wynne has touted the LCBO - a chain of liquor stores owned and operated by the province - as the best place to sell cannabis.

During a press conference last December, she told reporters, "it makes sense to me that the liquor distribution mechanism that we have in place - the LCBO - is very well-suited to putting in place the social responsibility aspects that would need to be in place."

She doubled down on that position last June, telling reporters that the LCBO has succeeded in developing an "efficient and effective" approach to handling restricted substances like alcohol and cannabis.

But now she has a reason to rethink that position. Actually, she has 60,000 reasons, because that's how many members of the province's business community are associated with the OCC, which is calling on the government to discuss a mixed retail market in Ontario. Their letter stressed the importance of the government working together with the private sector on this important issue. And the OCC made it clear that they didn't want the province using marijuana as a cash cow.

"[T]he OCC is calling on the Province to immediately begin a robust consultative process aimed at developing a regulatory framework for the distribution of recreational marijuana," wrote OCC President and CEO Allan O'Dette. "Members of the business community will not accept a regulatory framework that puts additional pressures on community health and safety. Nor will the business community accept a system designed to maximize government revenue....[A] true commitment to social responsibility demands an openness to studying and perhaps piloting various distribution models. We believe that a private-sector, licensing-based, and locally-oriented approach is one worth seriously considering."

More specifically, they're calling for a market that allows private businesses to compete with Crown corporations. "A licensing system, whereby a fixed number of access points are auctioned out to both the public and private sectors - including unions - may be a more efficient model of regulated delivery" than a government monopoly.

O'Dette also argued that a mixed market would be beneficial for society at large as well as the business community. Basically, the OCC thinks that creating a marijuana monopoly could keep the black market in business, which would defeat the purpose of legalization.

"[N]ot all market-models are equally effective in eliminating the underground economy," O'Dette wrote. "[T]hus, special attention should be given to the unintended consequences of an overly regulated regime. While not endorsing an entirely free-market model, we caution Government against creating a system that is so onerous that it effectively duplicates the existing ineffective regime thus sustaining illegal channels for production and distribution."

Ultimately, the letter could be good news for the province's illegal cannabis dispensaries, which have been trying to tell the government that marijuana and liquor stores don't mix.

Banner image: Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Queen's campus on January 19, 2015. (University /


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