The Ontario Election: What Does It Mean For Cannabis?

(Bruce Reeve/Flickr Creative Commons)

With the Ontario general election just a day away, party leaders are making their final pitch to voters and political pundits are scratching their heads, trying to predict a winner.

Ontario is a hub for the country’s cannabis industry, so stakeholders have been paying close attention to the election campaign.

The Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party are in a dead heat, with both expected to win 37% of the votes, according to an aggregation of polls. The Liberal Party, which has governed the province since 2003, is a distant third with 19%.

The legalization of recreational cannabis is just around the corner, and Ontario is a hub for the country’s cannabis industry, so stakeholders have been paying close attention to the election campaign. Here is what they have heard from the main parties:

Liberals

The Liberals support the Trudeau government’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis this year and have announced plans to regulate sales through the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, a subsidiary of the government-owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The Liberals intend to open 40 such stores this year and at least a hundred more by 2020.

Although the Liberals allowed beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne slammed the Conservatives stated plans to expand points of sale to include all grocery stores, box stores, and corner stores. She went a step further, warning Ontario voters that a Conservative government would also allow recreational cannabis to be sold in corner stores. “You could have a situation where you have marijuana and beer and wine beside the candy bars,” Wynne said. “That’s the image we have to reconcile.”

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Conservatives

Early in his campaign, PC leader Doug Ford said he would be open to seeing recreational cannabis sold outside of government-run stores. “I’ve always been open to a fair market, and I let the market dictate,” said Ford. “I don’t like government controlling anything.” When that caused a bit of a stir, he softened his stance, expressing support for LCBO cannabis sales.

Ford hasn’t said much else about cannabis aside from stating that Ontarians have to be “super, super careful” in regulating the cannabis market. Some observers attribute his muted response to allegations that he sold illicit drugs in high school. Ford says those claims are completely false.

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NDP

The NDP is critical of the other parties’ approach to cannabis.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath “has concerns about Kathleen Wynne’s plan to restrict the initial number of cannabis retail locations to just 40 for the province — which will allow organized crime to thrive, and erode assurances that products are safe,” Ontario NDP Media Relations Officer Rebecca Elming told Leafly.

“Andrea also has concerns with Doug Ford’s plan to turn Ontario into the Wild West with no regulations, where anyone can sell cannabis and the government has no role at all in making sure products are safe, or that profits fund things we need, like health care. Both of these approaches are a recipe for the black market—the criminal element—to thrive.”

Over the course of the campaign, Horwath has expressed concern about prime agricultural land being overrun by cannabis growing operations.

“Kathleen Wynne has made a mess of legalization in Ontario. In June, the new premier is going to have to get to work quickly to clean up the mess Wynne will leave behind, and ensure cannabis is both available and properly regulated,” Elming said. “She is looking forward to getting that done.”