On June 7, 2018, Doug Ford was elected Premier of Ontario. Barely two months after his election, he implemented major changes to how the Ontario government intends to manage the sale and distribution of recreational cannabis on its territory. Initially, Ontario had opted for a sales model similar to Quebec, namely the creation of a government-owned company.
Now, the PC government prefers the model used in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which authorizes the private sector to sell cannabis. The number of private retailers and their locations are not yet known, as the Ontario government wishes to first hold consultations to regulate sales by private distributors. However, we know that an online sales platform will be operational as of October 17 and will allow Ontario residents aged 19 and older to purchase recreational cannabis. As for the first private points of sale, they will begin their activities over the course of spring 2019.
If the Quebec elections result in a change of government, should we expect similar modifications to those made in Ontario?
Before answering this question, it is important to remember how the Quebec model of sale and distribution of recreational cannabis was created. On June 19 and 20, 2017, the Quebec government began by holding the “Forum of experts on the management of cannabis in Quebec,” before holding public consultations in different regions of Quebec, in addition to an online consultation. These actions led to the publication of a report that summarizes the results of the consultations. Regarding the implementation of a Quebec sales model, tables 3.a and 3.b. found on pages seven and eight of this document, demonstrate that a majority of organizations and individuals were favourable to the creation of a government monopoly on sales.
The cannabis bill was extensively studied by the different political parties represented at the Quebec national assembly. Despite a few points of divergence, namely regarding the minimum age for buying and consuming cannabis and where one can consume cannabis, no party questioned the government monopoly model. However, the first version of the bill included the possibility to implement pilot projects for the sale of cannabis by certain retailers. This possibility would have allowed the Quebec government, over time, to make the cannabis sales model a mixed model, both public, through the government-owned company, and private, through pilot projects. However, due to continued pressure from opposition parties, the option of allowing pilot projects for the sale of cannabis by certain retailers was removed from the final version of the bill.
Starting this past August 23, the Quebec general election has been in full swing. The electoral campaign, which will end on October 1, represents an opportunity to learn more about the position of the different political parties concerning the legalization of cannabis. François Legault, leader of Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), rapidly positioned himself on the question. Among other things, he wants to make sure that the points of sale of the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) are located far away from CEGEPs. He also wants to raise the minimum age for possession and consumption of cannabis to 21. Finally, he wants to prohibit the consumption of cannabis in all public spaces, including streets. For his part, Jean-François Lisée of the Parti Québécois (PQ) wants to authorize growing two cannabis plants at home. Québec Solidaire (QS) and the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) have stayed silent on the issue for the time being.
Considering the positions of the different parties, it is unlikely that Quebec would follow the Ontario example, at least in the short term. In contrast, during the leadership race and the Ontario electoral campaign, Doug Ford indicated his intention to open the sale of cannabis to the private sector. In Quebec, the SQDC model currently appears to be something the different political parties agree on. This will thus make it possible to compare the two models, private retailers versus government-owned company, in the months and years to come.