Canada: Ontario’s cannabis retail system will be open for business when marijuana is legalized Oct. 17

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Ontario will have a cannabis retail system open for business when recreational marijuana is legalized across the country in less than three months, says Finance Minister Vic Fedeli.

“We are going to be operational by Oct. 17,” Fedeli said Monday as questions swirled about how the province will sell weed following reports private retailers are being tapped instead of the government stores planned by the previous Liberal administration.

“You’re going to be hearing more from us in the future, but our sole goal will be to provide public safety for children, keeping the stores away from schools…and eliminating the organized crime activity,” said the finance minister.

He would not say what form the stores would take or whether existing marijuana dispensaries — which are illegal — would be allowed to apply for cannabis sales licences. An announcement is expected as early as Tuesday.

Under former premier Kathleen Wynne, the province was setting up Ontario Cannabis Stores through the LCBO, which would control distribution and handle online sales.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Premier Doug Ford has left Ontarians guessing by saying during the election campaign he’s open to private sales, later backing the LCBO model and then musing about private stores again.

“He’s obviously flip-flopped all over the map on this particular issue and all we know is whichever lobbyist got to him most recently is probably who he’s making his decisions for,” Horwath told reporters.

“What I’m very concerned about is the social responsibility aspect and ensuring that not only the outlets, but the people who work in them, are able to ensure that the product is not being distributed to people that should not be receiving it.”

Ford said on June 22, when asked about cannabis stores, “I don’t believe the government should stick their nose into everything” but added the LCBO has infrastructure in place.

“This is a road that we have to tread carefully,” he added. Wynne slammed Ford in March, shortly after he became Progressive Conservative leader, for being “reckless” in saying he was “open to a free market” in marijuana sales.

The first four Ontario Cannabis Stores were to be located in Toronto, Guelph, Kingston and Thunder Bay. The Toronto location, in a strip mall on Gerrard St. East at Victoria Park alongside a student tutoring services, a childrens’ martial arts centre and a McDonalds, is within a kilometre of several public schools, including Blantyre Public School about 450 metres south.

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