Cannabis legalization plan should allow local businesses to participate

The Green Party of Ontario strongly supports a cannabis legalization plan with regulations focused on safety. We believe in placing restrictions on under age use.

We support a cannabis distribution plan that puts an end to the underground market and the criminalization of cannabis. We believe cannabis legalization should enrich our communities and not be a drain on resources.

We support a legalization plan that benefits small business, local farmers and indigenous entrepreneurs.

Sadly, the Liberal government’s proposed marijuana monopoly undermines all of this.
A small number of government-controlled dispensaries will do nothing to deter the underground market. It might even make the underground market stronger.

A vibrant underground market will do nothing to deter the high rate of young people using cannabis in Canada. An underground market will continue to benefit organized crime, lead to the use of unregulated and possibly unsafe cannabis, and make our communities less safe.

The government’s monopolization plan seems to ramp up the criminalization of existing dispensaries, which will unnecessarily drain resources from programs for mental health and addictions to support additional law enforcement.

The Liberal plan is designed to support insiders and the well-connected. It is a plan written for Bay Street, instead of Main Street.

The GPO believes there is a better way forward. Ontario could achieve the goals of eliminating the underground market and making our communities safer. We could have a plan that benefits communities by making them safer and more prosperous. We could achieve this while also placing restrictions on cannabis, especially youth access.

The Green Party is calling on the government to reconsider its monopolization plan. Instead the Green Party is asking the government to develop a cannabis distribution plan with strict regulations on licensed dispensaries.

The GPO is calling for a system that:

1. Regulates and licenses small businesses and dispensaries to sell cannabis in a safe and controlled way;
2. Ensures tax revenues from cannabis sales are used to fund education, mental health and addiction programs;
3. Creates more local jobs and prosperity by supporting small businesses, local farmers, and Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Why not legalize – under strict regulations – the tens of thousands of cannabis providers who want to operate safe, legal businesses, but are currently defined as criminals by government policy?

The vast majority of these people are otherwise law abiding citizens. They want to come into the light, but the Liberal plan forces them to stay in the shadows.

Justice Department records support this: ninety-five percent of cannabis growing cases in court have no connection to organized crime or gangs, and the people charged were “otherwise law-abiding.”

The legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada should be designed to end the criminalization of law abiding citizens.

If structured properly, the cannabis market could provide local economic and community benefits that the craft beer industry is starting to provide. After decades of fighting for market access—trying to break through the government and big beer oligopoly–craft breweries are popping up in communities across Ontario. These breweries are creating local jobs, providing local economic benefits and contributing to the vibrancy of our communities.

Likewise, licensed and regulated boutique cannabis dispensaries could provide opportunities for creative new business start ups, local job creation and a market outlet for local farmers. Bringing cannabis out of the shadowy underground market would make our communities safer and more vibrant.

Hopefully we’ve learned by now that monopolizing beer sales was a mistake. Why make the same mistake with cannabis sales?

I understand that people have valid concerns about cannabis legalization. Legitimate concerns about the locations of retail outlets, the safety of how cannabis is sold and used, and the social and financial costs of regulating the market. People are concerned about the rate of use, especially among young people.

We share these concerns about the individual and public health effects of cannabis use.
But we believe these concerns can be addressed with strict rules and regulations, not with a monopoly that will undermine the reasons for legalization.

I strongly encourage the Ontario government to abandon its cannabis monopolization plan.

Instead, look to provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Alberta who are developing plans that do not monopolize the retailing of marijuana. Government’s role should be to regulate the retail cannabis sector, not to become the exclusive legal retailer.

Thank you,

Mike Schreiner
Leader, Green Party of Ontario