Despite scores of successful illicit pot delivery businesses, only the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store is allowed to sell weed by mail.

Bryan Passifiume | National Post

OTTAWA – While other provinces streamline their legal cannabis framework, retailers in Ontario say it’s time for Canada’s largest legal pot market to follow suit.

Growing numbers of licensed retailers wants Queen’s Park to do away with their self-serving monopoly on mail-order cannabis sales — a business model only the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is permitted to access.

“I appreciate that in the beginning there needed to be options for everyone, but now we’re at a point where there’s a lot of retailers who need any sale that they can get,” said Jennawae Cavion, executive director of NORML Canada and owner of licensed Kingston, Ont., retailer Calyx+Trichomes.

“This is directly taking food off of people’s tables to the tune of about $8 million a year.”

While Ontario prohibits retailers from mail-order cannabis sales, that isn’t the case in provinces such as Alberta or B.C., where licensed sellers can fill mail orders from within their own province via Canada Post.

“We should be able to ship Canada-wide,” said Sam Gerges, owner of Toronto-based independent retailer MaryJane’s Cannabis.

“Our country just loves having government monopolies — we can’t help ourselves.”

Ontario’s legal dispensaries are compelled to follow the province’s guidelines on where, when and how cannabis is sold, including only purchasing their stock from OCS — which, adjacent to their online sales portal, also operates Ontario’s only wholesaler for legal cannabis.

Nick Baksh, founder of Pickering, Ont., cannabis shop Montrose, said Ontario’s cannabis policy is based on outdated “brick-and-mortar” retail concepts, when today’s commerce is based almost entirely online.

“A store shouldn’t have to open north of Inuvik just to be able to service those clientele,” he said.

“It brings a difference sense of accessibility, we have people in wheelchairs that we deliver to. It’s all eCommerce.”

Gerges said Canada’s illegal dispensaries — with some operating physical stores neighbouring licensed sellers — operate successful mail order cannabis delivery services without fear of penalty or repercussion.

“As a licensed retailer, I’d be fined $100k by the AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario) if I sold weed that didn’t come from the Ontario Cannabis Store, whereas an illegal dispensary can operate with complete impunity,” Gerges said.

“Rule followers are punished in Canada.”

Baksh said he’s at the point where he views illicit sellers — not other licensed retailers — as his direct competition.

“My beef now is all these (illicit online sellers) in B.C. and Alberta shipping to our own citizens,” he said.

“Those should be my sales — I’ve dropped over three quarters of a million dollars in my business, and you’re telling me I can’t ship in Ontario, let alone Canada?”

A quick Google search reveals numerous illicit sellers offering Canada-wide delivery of items illegal to sell in licensed stores, including edibles and concentrates exceeding legal THC limits, with many also stocking items containing psilocybin mushrooms.

While Ontario retailers have long complained about the province’s draconian rules, Alberta spent 2023 removing barriers for their industry.

On Monday, the province announced they’ll let licensed retailers operate pop-up stores at adult-only trade shows and festivals, looser rules on storing product outside of business hours, and removed restrictions on sales and transfers between retailers.

Other made-in-Alberta improvements include fewer restrictions on store signage, expanded business hours, and allowing producers to provide free samples to retailers.

“We’ve been looking at the cannabis market to determine what’s working, what needs to be improved and what’s redundant or unnecessary, while protecting public health and safety,” said Dale Nally, Alberta’s minister for reducing red tape.

“These changes are the result of our latest work to help curb the illegal cannabis industry and continue providing choices Albertans can trust.”

Inquiries to Queen’s Park about the regulatory barriers preventing mail-order cannabis delivery — and if Ontario was willing to follow-suit with other provinces — went largely unanswered.

In a statement, Attorney General spokesperson Alexandra Wilkes reiterated that cannabis can only be legally purchased through the OCS, or provincially authorized stores.

“In order to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, Ontario does not permit cannabis retail stores to use third-party delivery services (couriers,)” she said.

“Curbside pick-up and deliveries from authorized cannabis retail stores must be carried out by CannSell trained employees for the responsible sale of cannabis to those who are 19 years old or older. The AGCO has compliance tools, including monetary penalties and the ability to revoke licenses, in order to ensure businesses comply with these measures.”

Allowing retailers to ship via Canada Post won’t increase the risk of youth use, Cavion pointed out — as postal orders fulfilled by OCS are subject to strict ID rules that keep deliveries out of the hands of minors.

“If we can trust Canada Post to ship cannabis, it’s already been decided that it’s an acceptable way to send and receive cannabis, so we would just put that trust in Canada Post to be responsible and check ID,” she said.

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