Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ontario Goes to Pot

"You have to recognize the culture of the province has changed, the economic life of the province has changed, and opinion and attitudes have definitely changed."
Mississauga South's C. Sousa, announced what the government was not doing the other day.
“We are not encouraging the consumption of cannabis. That would be a mistake.”
The presumably serious statement came as the government announced a new neighbourhood drug dealer.

The press release - from the government's main legal Minister - makes it abundantly clear the provincial government is gearing up to sell cannabis to people it doesn't approve of due to the actions of the federal government.
In response to the federal government's plan to legalize cannabis by July 2018, Ontario is committing to a safe and sensible framework to govern the lawful use and retail of recreational cannabis as a carefully controlled substance within the province.
The mock press probably got this story right.

from the Beaverton

The government has a history of manipulating media through the release of information on intoxicants, and today's announcement may simply follow that trend.

Recent news includes: test scores in schools are still falling, a Liberal bribery trial has begun, and the independent financial officers of the province are criticizing Sousa's budgeting and reporting exercises:
“The legislature and all Ontarians must be able to rely on the Province’s consolidated financial statements to fairly report the fiscal results for the year. This year they cannot do so”   -Auditor General of Ontario 
"In contrast to the 2017 Budget, the FAO continues to project a steady deterioration in the budget deficit..."   -Financial Accountability Office of Ontario
So... the Premier returned to her practice of using intoxicants as opium of Ontario's masses.

The sorry story of the Beer Store is worth reviewing to understand just how bad the government is getting pot sales.
The Beer Store and the LCBO were established under the Liquor Control Act of 1927, which imposed heavy controls upon the consumption of alcohol in Ontario – many of which remain part of our drinking culture today. The reasons behind the Act were twofold: first, it placed heavy taxes upon the sale of alcohol in order to gain revenue for a deficit-laden provincial government; and second, its strict controls upon alcohol consumption appeased prohibitionist voters...
The LCBO stores required you to write your order, which would be recorded in a ledger as your purchase, and the product would be brought from the back in a paper bag. The Beer Stores were separated because it wasn't deemed necessary to track personal purchases of beer.
"promote temperance sobriety, personal liberty and, above all, to restore respect for the law" - purposes of the Liquor Control Act of 1927
The government's plan for pot is essentially the 1927 approach to hard liquor: brown bagging orders. Only the paperwork has changed.
“We will not permit products to be visible,” Sousa promised.
Customers will have to show identification and get their pot from salespeople behind counters..."   -David Reevely, The Ottawa Citizen
Today the old Beer Store and LCBO retail formats are largely flipped. Ontario Beer Stores are generally joyless places - either of a big cooler where you grab your own product sloppily presented on skids, or a single cash receptor taking orders for product that appears on a convery belt The government run LCBO stores are brighter, happier, often newer stores offering a greater selection on not simply alcohol, but beer.

The announcement that the LCBO will run the cannabis sales worries those that assume the government will always do a worse job than the private sector, but I expect the requirement to hide the product will be the key quality determinant as it essentially reduces the planned store experience to Beer Store lousiness.

Quality of retail experience is something I feel pertinent. If employees are going to do their job well, their job should be focused on their customers. The focus of the government's plan is twofold: disrespect customers, and ensure no proponents of legalization currently selling product illegitimately benefit from a new legal status.
"Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers. The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations." - government news release
One notable voice among those that agitated for legalization is Jodie Emery. Some would know her husband, Marc Emery, as "the prince of pot", and a few others will remember him as a London Ontario bookstore owner who fought for the right to operate businesses on Sundays in the province during the 1980's. She rightly points out the government's plan attempts to ignore, and/or punish, both those who would like to buy cannibis, and those who would like to sell it:
"Legalization was supposed to be the end of criminalization, the end of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on law enforcement and courts... If this Ontario government introduces their model, the way it's being presented today, we will see the black market continue to exist." - Jodie Emery quoted in the Globe and Mail
The Freedom Party that fought for Sunday shopping in the province during the 1980's shared at least some characteristics with members of the U.S. Libertarians of 2016. Gary Johnson is a two-time Governor of New Mexico, two-time Presidential nominee, and a former head of a cannibis business. For those interested in the business itself, I recommend viewing this video for 7 minutes:

"What people really want is Coca-Cola."

I think the point will be true for cannibis, as it was for alcohol. Legal alcohol has not meant hard alcohol for most consumers. The future of cannibis is unclear, but it's probably milder doses and, as Johnson notes, it's probably will decreasingly be smokable.

Ontario isn't setting up stores that will allow new products to find consumers, or vice-versa. Far from it - the structure is designed for business to occur in the absence of passion for product or service.
“Stop criminalizing the existing industry,...That’s what legalization is supposed to legalize: the growers and sellers who are peaceful and nonviolent.”   - Jodie Emery (CTV)
Vice has an excellent article by Vanmala Subramaniamin which concludes:
...[the] announcement is a boon for weed’s largest players — companies like Canopy Growth Corp., Aphria Inc., Aurora Cannabis and Tilray will end up being the main suppliers of weed to government-owned stores.
“It’s kind of like beer. The largest breweries own and supply to the Beer Store. This government-owned retail model for weed will protect the current monopoly and market power big LP’s have...Companies that are already in the market love these barriers to entry.”
It's unlikely to produce a product any more appealing than the beer store's big boring brewery staples - or a Sousa balance sheet.


The quote at the top of this article is displayed as the final frame of  Never on a Sunday: The History of Ontario's Ban on Sunday Shopping. The words are Premier Bob Rae's - they came after his government repealed a Sunday shopping ban less than 2 years after winning a majority mandate in an election where his party took the strongest stance against Sunday shopping.


From Vinay Menon's entertaining  A pot monopoly? What’s Kathleen Wynne smoking? Menon in the Toronto Star:
... Wynne made it clear she believes the province is her street-corner and rival factions hoping to get a piece of this action will be wiped out by her gang of bureaucrats.

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