A provincial cannabis framework including private retail options would offer certain benefits lacking in the Ontario government’s vision for legalization, says one of the province’s leading licensed cannabis producers. 

At a press conference last week, Finance Minister Yasir Naqvi announced the Ontario government would launch a government-controlled cannabis monopoly that would see 40 cannabis stores across the province by next year and 150 by 2020.

The system will be governed by the province's Liquor Control Board of Ontario, but officials made it clear that cannabis will be sold in standalone stores stocked by federally approved producers without the presence of alcohol. Legal sales will be limited to those 19 and older.

Naqvi also announced plans to shut down all illegal cannabis dispensaries in the province over the next 12 months.

"If you operate one of these dispensaries, consider yourself on notice," said Naqvi.

Darren Karasiuk, vice-president of strategy for MedReleaf, says he’d hoped the provincial government would have “followed the path it took with alcohol in allowing for private retail sales alongside government owned stores.”

“We share the Province’s commitment to ensuring adult Ontarians have access to safe, regulated cannabis products and Ontario providing clarity of intention will help us prepare for next year,” Karasiuk told Civilized.

“However... we believe a competitive market will provide the consumer with greater convenience and the Province with a predictable, low-risk revenue stream without the taxpayer burdens of upfront capital expenditure exposure and operational risk of building its own system.

“The advantages of competition include better quality and selection and lower costs, thus minimizing the appeal of the black market – all at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Karasiuk added that while MedReleaf fully supports shutting down illegal dispensaries, he remains hopeful that the Province will further expand the market to include private sector participation in distribution and retail, “just as it has done with beer and wine, in order to permit greater convenience for Ontario’s consumers.”