Lounges, Private Dispensaries in Ontario Fight for Legitimacy

Canada is on the precipice of legalizing recreational marijuana, and with that comes the labor pains of bringing this once-illegal industry into legitimacy.

One particular area of controversy has been Ontario, where a government monopoly is scheduled to handle all retail aspects of cannabis from the top down.

While the province believes a tight grip on all things cannabis is necessary, many activists and others in the unlicensed market are crying foul, saying that private retail should be allowed to flourish. If that wasn’t enough, there has been much debate on what to do regarding the existence of cannabis lounges, which are currently illegal, and for the moment, scheduled to stay that way even after legalization.

Enter Sensible Ontario, a campaign launched by the Ontario Cannabis Consumer & Retail Alliance (OCCRA) to put the brakes on complete government control and allow for healthy competition in the private industry.

Sensible ON supports lounges and private retail in Ontario by raising awareness of the different party platforms and public statements on cannabis regulation,” said Lisa Campbell, Director of OCCRA, in an interview with Marijuana.com.

“While in Ontario cannabis retail will be run by a government monopoly, we believe that is not enough to stop the black market. If we regulate cannabis like alcohol, that means in addition to government stores we need licensed cannabis venues which can dispense cannabis.”

The idea of private marijuana retail outside Canada’s largest province is not radical. Provinces that include Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and British Columbia, Canada’s kingdom of kush, have all agreed to have privately-owned dispensaries within their borders and a mix of government control. Still, Ontario remains an area of strict policy in regards to pot.

Sensible Ontario is hoping to rally those who would like to see a more diverse landscape of cannabis businesses, and they are planning a number of initiatives to continue spreading their gospel.

“As we gear up for 420 season, Sensible Ontario will be out and about encouraging citizens to get out the vote for candidates that support private cannabis retail,” said Campbell. “Already two of the Progressive Conservative leadership candidates have endorsed private retail for cannabis, with support also coming from the Green Party. The Liberals are already moving to regulate cannabis lounges, but we are unsure if this policy will come out before or after the election.”

As Canada moves ever-closer to its goal of becoming the world’s first G7 country to legalize marijuana, one could have never imagined the kaleidoscope of complexity that would arise throughout the process.

Although Sensible Ontario has not yet fully achieved its goal of a diverse retail landscape for recreational cannabis, the campaign is doing exactly what has brought Canada to the point of legalization in the first place; bringing intense dialogue and awareness into a discussion that needs to be had.


Jon Hiltz was a journalist for Marijuana.com for two years and is now director of content for INDIVA, a licensed cannabis producer in Ontario Canada.

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