Ontario government to introduce legislation regulating recreational pot

Ontario government to introduce legislation regulating recreational pot

The moves are part of new legislation revealed by the Ontario government Wednesday afternoon detailing the province's plans for incorporating private cannabis retail into the existing public framework.

The "two-phase" regulatory approach will require that businesses obtain a retail operating licence and a retail store authorization from the AGCO, according to Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney.

Under previous consumption rules, those over 19 would have only been able to smoke cannabis in a private Ontario residence when pot becomes legal October 17. The proposed legislation eases the regulations to allow marijuana to be smoked in the same places as cigarettes.

Mark Blinch/CANADIAN PRESS Ontario's Attorney General Caroline Mulroney speaks about new legislation for selling marijuana, in Toronto on September 26, 2018.

David Clement, the Toronto-based North American affairs manager for the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group, said the government's plan will help ensure those who can legally consume cannabis are able to access it.

Smoking pot in vehicles or boats that are being operated will be prohibited. The maximum fines on conviction would be $1,000 for a first offence, and $5,000 for subsequent offences.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will regulate the sale of cannabis, and will have the power to grant and revoke licenses.

"The idea of not capping the number of retail licences makes a lot of sense", said Mark Goliger, CEO of National Access Cannabis, which has a deal with Second Cup to convert some of its coffee shops into cannabis stores. "With the ability to now consume in public spaces, it's a completely new ball game about how they will want to build brand awareness", he said. "If we can license the Tweed brand to stores for a dollar, or for free, if possible, without contravening the rules, then we'll look at doing something like that".

A buffer zone between schools and cannabis retail stores will be established.

The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp. would no longer fall under the LCBO, but report directly to Finance Minister Vic Fedeli.

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"Any engagement with organized crime, any record of providing youth cannabis - any of that would bar you from participating in the private cannabis market", Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said.

The new rules will bring Ontario's approach in line with that adopted in Alberta and B.C. and will address concerns that people living in smoke-free apartments would be legally barred from smoking cannabis almost everywhere in Ontario except at another private property.

Ontario municipalities will also be given the opportunity to opt-out of pot stores in their communities.

The Progressive Conservatives estimated that they will save $150 million by not opening 150 government-run stores expected under the Liberals by 2020.

Liberal legislator Nathalie Des Rosier said the Tories' new model could result in a large number of pot shops springing up that will be a challenge to regulate.

"It certainly is a complete free market that may flood Ontario", she said.

"I'm a little concerned that we're looking at having people smoking cannabis potentially on a park bench or a playground with a bunch of kids playing around", he said.

Green party leader Mike Schreiner said consumption laws for cannabis should be similar to those for alcohol.

"It's going to create challenges for people who live in multi-unit dwellings, but it's already a challenge", he said. A government official speaking on background said those rules prevented anybody who rents in Ontario from smoking cannabis if their landlord banned it.

One important difference, though, is that people will not be allowed to smoke pot in cars. "They should be using it in another ways. Preferably, you'd have a distinction between smoking and vaping, not that vaping is benign but it's undoubtedly better than smoking".

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