In early September, Ontario was the first of the Canadian provinces to announce its plans for a marijuana retail framework. To the chagrin of the unlicensed cannabis community, the government decided that a provincially-controlled system would be the best option.
Since that announcement, many participants in the Canadian marijuana industry have asked if there’s anything that can be done to allow for a private retail sector in Canada’s largest province.
Toronto Member of City Council Jim Karygiannis has been the most vocal supporter within government for a privately-owned dispensary retail option. He has also been highly critical of law enforcement, who are working to shut down unlicensed dispensaries at all costs.
“The City of Toronto is the largest municipality in Canada and should have taken the lead [on dispensary regulation]. We failed to listen to community stakeholders,” said Karygiannis in an interview with Marijuana.com. “We should have engaged the community, the medical marijuana users, the recreational users, and the dispensary [owners].”
Karygiannis added that the proper way to have gone about the process would have been to speak to the aforementioned groups and then take that information to the provincial government for review. He sees this as a necessary step because of the lack of connection the provincial and federal governments have with local communities on cannabis.
“[The provincial and federal governments] don’t know the people on the ground. They don’t know the communities on the ground as well as the municipal governments do.”
The Councillor went on to say that the problem goes beyond a lack of communication with local citizens and the unlicensed cannabis community. By not trying to work with dispensaries, governments needlessly spend taxpayer dollars.
“We have a bylaw enforcement unit that goes around just shutting down cannabis dispensaries,” he said. “We’re wasting taxpayers’ money by having the enforcement unit, we are wasting taxpayers money by having the police go after [them,] and we are also wasting money by taking these people to court. We should have done what happened out in Vancouver, we should have licensed the dispensaries.”
Karygiannis is also a vocal critic of the retail distribution model announced by the Ontario provincial government. He was quick to point out the downsides to not having dedicated staff from the cannabis community selling product at licensed dispensaries. Some of the issues he outlined include a lack of competition in the LCBO model, as well as the exorbitant tax and upcharges Karygiannis expects will happen in a government-run atmosphere.
“People who work in dispensaries are recreational and medical users. These people have the know-how to tell the [customers] this is the strain you should be buying.”
If the community would like to voice their opinions and try to mitigate the effects of a government-controlled monopoly on cannabis, what should they do?
“Any government decision can be persuaded to change, public opinion can shift. Folks should engage their MPPs (Members of Provincial Parliament), engage their municipal representatives, and say this is unfair and we want to change this.”
Karygiannis also suggested that the existing cannabis community should call their MPP and schedule a meeting with them. “Don’t have the discussion over the phone, go in person if you can.”
The legalization of adult-use cannabis is still nine months away. If a government monopoly on cannabis sales does not seem like a palatable option, contacting a member of provincial parliament is as easy as picking up the phone.
This article was originally published on Marijuana.com.
About Jon Hiltz: Jonathan Hiltz has been a journalist, a TV producer and marijuana advocate for over sixteen years. He has a wife, two young children and lives in the Toronto area.