Ontario has made its stance on illegal dispensaries and public cannabis consumption clear with the bill it tabled earlier today.
If passed, the bill will regulate the sale and distribution of cannabis in the province once legalization is implemented in July 2018.
Flying in the face of public opposition to its September announcement, the province’s answer to the federal Cannabis Act maintains that the only legal sale of cannabis will be conducted at government-run storefronts, or through online services managed by the province.
The legislation creates the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC), which will distribute recreational cannabis to adults over 19 through 40 standalone stores as of next summer, with plans to build 150 in total.
Ontario’s Cannabis Act also prohibits the use of cannabis in public places, workplaces, and all motor vehicles, which means recreational users will only be permitted to consume cannabis in private residences. On a first offence, an individual could face a fine of up to $1,000 for smoking in prohibited areas, while subsequent convictions could see fines raised to $5,000. There are few exemptions in the bill for medical users.
Dispensaries and other illegal distributors that decide to sell cannabis after the bill is implemented will be subjected to heavy penalties. According to the legislation, corporations found to be illegally selling or distributing cannabis could be fined up to $1 million, while individuals could face fines of up to $250,000, in addition to or in place of jail time.
The legislation also gives police the power to close illegal storefronts immediately.
The provisions concerning the illegal sale of cannabis seemed to appease Toronto Mayor John Tory, who told reporters that, contrary to a recent study conducted in California, closing dispensaries was important for the safety of neighbourhoods in his city.
“We want to be able to keep children and families and neighbourhoods and schools and retail strips safe and stable and that we need to be able to do that so it isn’t kind of a Wild West environment where people can just go out and set up any kind of a shop they want,’ he said. ‘I don’t think anybody really supports that except perhaps the people that are operating the shops.”