Three marijuana dispensaries in one Toronto block. That's just one indication of the current demand.
Yet the Ontario Liberals have come up with a half-baked pot plan that will open only 150 stores across the province by 2020. How will these handful of stores even come close to meeting existing demand?
This plan won't stop the underground market. It will not curb the sale of illegal, unsafe or unregulated cannabis.
This is a plan that puts the political establishment and government bureaucrats before the people of Ontario. It lays the foundation for big corporations to control the marijuana market at the expense of local farmers, craft producers and main street businesses.
It is not a plan that will make most marijuana sales safe, legal or regulated. It is not a plan that will benefit small businesses or local economies.
The Ontario Liberals' pot announcement is more about optics than an actual plan to legalize marijuana sales safely.
The Wynne Liberals seem to have forgotten why marijuana was legalized in the first place.
Just think about it for a second. Ontario is simply too big for 40 to a maximum of 150 government-run stores to have any hope of meeting demand for a substance that is ubiquitous around the province. There are 651 LCBO outlets and 451 Beer Stores alone in Ontario. Something tells me that a website and 40 to 150 stores will not satisfy existing demand for marijuana.
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Limited supply for a product in such high use already will only lead marijuana users to buy from their existing underground suppliers. The Liberals' law-and-order rhetoric, while satisfying conservatives who did not want marijuana legalized in the first place, will only escalate the failed war on weed.
The Wynne Liberals seem to have forgotten why marijuana was legalized in the first place — ending the wasteful and ineffective war on a plant that is commonly used; shutting down the illegal market; and stopping the criminalization of a largely acceptable public product while making cannabis sales safe, regulated, taxed and above board.
There is another approach — a plan that strictly regulates and controls marijuana sales, that supports local farmers and small businesses by licensing local retail outlets. The government could place strict rules focused on health and safety for licensed retail outlets. Restrictions could be placed on hours, location, marketing, THC content, staff training, driving, product use, etc. that follow best practices.
Tax revenue from licensing and sales of marijuana could fund education campaigns, mental health and addiction programs. Local farmers growing for local businesses could boost local economies, create local jobs and boost prosperity, especially in rural areas.
Just like we have craft brewers, artisan distillers and family wineries, Ontario could have craft growers and artisan retailers operating in a highly regulated market with strict penalties for violation of licensing rules and cannabis laws.
Do you really want the Ontario government pushing pot in the same way government pushes alcohol and lottery tickets?
Yes, licensing local retailers would require a government bureaucracy to enforce. Yes, I would support these enforcement officers being well-paid unionized public-sector jobs. Putting Main Street businesses before Queen's Park bureaucrats is not driven by freezing out public-sector unions. It's about recognizing that a top down, centralized approach to marijuana sales won't eliminate unsafe, unregulated, underground weed.
Think about it a bit more — do you really want the Ontario government pushing pot in the same way government pushes alcohol and lottery tickets? Maybe, just maybe, there is a market for nice people selling marijuana in an informative, responsible and safe way. It's happening right now in a grey market a that the Liberals plan to crush — driving more people to the illicit market.
Monopolizing alcohol sales hasn't worked. Monopolizing marijuana sales won't, either. Why go down that road when we can avoid it in the first place?