The government of Ontario has unveiled its detailed plan to roll out marijuana legalization next summer, but has made it pretty clear that they don’t want to see it on any street corners.
Under the Ontario Cannabis Act, you won’t be able to smoke pot in your car, on your boat, or in any public place or business. The only legal place to smoke pot recreationally, it seems, will be in your home.
The act treats marijuana smoke roughly the same as tobacco, banning it from anywhere where people work and from any public business — even, apparently, in members-only clubs. That would include the vaporizer lounges dotted throughout Toronto that have proved popular.
But the ban extends to the entire outdoors.
A spokesperson with Attorney General Yasir Naqvi confirmed that recreational pot will be vorboten anywhere outside the comfort of your own home.
But there may yet be a loophole: The rules around medical marijuana are a bit more lax.
The act plans to treat medical marijuana more like cigarettes or e-cigarettes. Under those rules, medical marijuana users will be able to smoke indoors, so long as the establishment is designed to filter out the smoke, or has rooms where users can smoke up without the help of an employee.
That may be a lifeline for the province’s various vaporizer lounges, who market themselves as facilities for medical pot.
The province’s litany of marijuana dispensaries — some of which purport to be for medicinal use, though others have not bothered with the pretense — won’t be offered the same leeway.
The act promises strict new penalties for facilities that continue to sell marijuana outside the new system being proposed by the provincial Liberal government. Under their plan, marijuana will be sold in store and online through a government-owned retailer called the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation.
Wednesday’s legislation dashes hope of some industry groups who had hoped marijuana could be sold by private retailers. A poll published by the Ontario Pharmacists Association on Wednesday showed a majority of Ontarians wanted pot sold by pharmacists.
For the dispensaries that have multiplied in recent years, and who have faced repeated raids by city police, the new legislation is bad news.
Many of those storefronts have opened right back up after being raided, with new stock. Their employees have posted bail and, in some cases, gone right back to work.
This legislation aims to stop that by giving courts the power to order businesses closed for up to two years if their staff have been convicted of selling marijuana illegally.
The act backs up that plan with stiff fines: $250,000 for a corporation and up to $100,000 for an individual, a maximum of one year in jail, or both. Those punishments are a huge step up for the penalties contemplated in the federal legislation.
Under Ottawa’s bill, which was already described as harsh, selling marijuana outside the confines of the law generally came with a fine of just $5,000 and/or six months in jail, although punishment could include significantly more jail time.
Ontario’s act does allow for Indigenous reserves to run their own marijuana shops, however, if the province signs off.
Toronto has, without a doubt, proven itself the strictest when it comes to those dispensaries. Cops have made dozens of raids in recent years, laying hundreds of charges. Few, however, have resulted in convictions.
Justin Ling is a freelance journalist based in Toronto who covers defence, security, politics, and people who make mistakes.
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