To put a dent in the sales of cannabis on the black market, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says it will encourage the Ontario government to allow for the opening of more retail locations that sell cannabis products.
The chamber plans to launch, on Thursday, the Ontario Cannabis Policy Council (OCPC), a lobby group that they say includes cannabis producers, legal experts and the dean of the University of Guelph’s school of agriculture.
Daniel Safayeni, the co-chair of the OCPC, says there has been some frustration with the way the Doug Ford government implemented its plan for cannabis sales. Safayeni spoke with the CBC’s Conrad Collaco about how the system might be improved and what this will mean for consumers. You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above.
Daniel Safayeni, Ontario Cannabis Policy Council
(Ontario Chamber of Commerce )
What’s wrong with the way the Ford government has set up how cannabis is sold in Ontario?
I think perspective here is important because Canada is going about legalizing a drug that has been illegal for nearly a century and in that time a well established illegal cannabis market has emerged, meaning some growing pains are to be expected. I think we appreciate that these things don’t happen overnight.
However, at the same time Ontario is uniquely positioned here to lead Canada’s recreational cannabis industry and we feel, with timely recommendations that are informed and evidence base, we can help the government unlock Ontario’s economic potential on this emerging sector.
What changes would you like to see?
I think there are some simple solutions in front of us many of which were included in a report that the Chamber released back in April on recreational cannabis. But first and foremost I think it includes a commitment to a clear timeline for an open allocation model and this model would be one in which retail licenses are allocated to pre-qualified, vetted retailers on a first come, first served basis driven by market demand.
We’d like the government to look to making better use of the current pool of pre-qualified operators and commit to rolling out a significant number of new store licences on a monthly basis to really kick start the legal retail industry and begin combating the illicit market in earnest.
Who, exactly, does the council represent? Whose voices are you elevating here?
I think that’s a great question and the composition of this group is important. I have the privilege of co-chairing the group with Trevor Fencott, the CEO of Fire and Flower, a big national retailer, but we also have National Access Cannabis, another retailer, as well as smaller retailers like super Superette and licensed producers, legal experts, post-secondary institutes like the University of Guelph which is trying to kick start a research program in the space, as well as insurers and folks like responsible cannabis use who are educators specifically in this space.
You’re not the first to say the lottery system isn’t working. What difference can the council make on this issue? The province hasn’t been willing to move on it so far.
I think there’s two things there. First of all, there hasn’t been a group like this formed in Ontario that is specifically Ontario focused. I think that does provide us some grounds to build credibility around the recommendations that this council will be making. I think we also understand that success is going to require a collaboration amongst all levels of governments, investors, industry and post-secondary institutions. Hopefully there is a bit of a convening role that we can play, in that vein. As the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, we speak on behalf of our 60,000 members across 135 communities in Ontario. The government does at least tend to listen because they understand that we are advocating on behalf of a broad cross-section of Ontario’s businesses.
You represent Ontario businesses and take what they have to say to the government. Why should the average consumer in Ontario care about your plan?
I think that’s a really good question. If I was an average consumer there’s probably two things that’s worth mentioning. First of all, it’s the fact that there is an enormous economic potential here. Ontario is home to Canada’s biggest domestic consumer market. We have the majority of licensed producers right here and the majority of employment within the cannabis sector is also based in Ontario. So, if you’re concerned about good paying jobs and economic growth you want to see the potential of this industry really unlocked.
Secondly, I think the average person is also probably concerned with public health, public safety and combating the illicit market. The first step in doing that is making sure that a well regulated, legal, recreational market is successful and robust. For as long as the illicit market continues to compete on convenience and price and access, we’re going to continue to see an illicit market thrive either in tandem or instead of a thriving recreational market.
With the new products, such as concentrates and edibles coming online in the coming months, I think it’s even more important to make sure that consumers are buying this through regulated retail outlets and channels rather than turning to the illegal market for it.
I’m not sure exactly how your plan will ensure a better regulated and safer product. Can you explain how that would work?
Well, I think what I’m trying to say is that you know there are already good regulations in place surrounding retail cannabis at the federal level and provincially. Here we’ve passed one of the most progressive private retail legislations. It’s just a matter of actually fully implementing it and moving forward with this open allocation model. When I say that this will actually be safer. That’s in regards to the fact that if you have a robust private retail market then less folks are turning to illicit means to purchase their cannabis which it’s not as regulated and the safety of the product is a question mark.
There are many, many more spaces in Alberta where consumers there can buy provincial products. Are you looking at a model that is closer to the one the Alberta government implemented?
Yeah. Absolutely. We do think that there are successful other provincial models to look at. In Alberta, they have already nearly 300 retail stores with a population of 4 million while Ontario, with a population of 14 million, has only 24 retail outlets. So, we do think there are lessons to be learned, both from how we’ve gone about doing it and looking at what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in other provinces.