News Provincial

Contraband weed will flourish: OSCA

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

Sarah Hanlon writes that she was disturbed by recent troubles at the Cannabis Culture outlet in the Gay village. POSTMEDIA

Sarah Hanlon writes that she was disturbed by recent troubles at the Cannabis Culture outlet in the Gay village. POSTMEDIA

Ontario’s massive contraband tobacco industry can and will easily switch to the manufacture of contraband marijuana when the product becomes legal, the head of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association predicts.

With no apparent political will to shut down illegal cigarette factories on Ontario reserves, and the likelihood of high taxes on pot, the drug is poised to join the distribution system already in place to move contraband tobacco, OCSA CEO Dave Bryans said Friday.

“If we can’t handle the most contentious cigarette problems in Ontario, we’ll not be able to handle marijuana,” Bryans said. “We can’t even close illegal marijuana shops throughout this province — they’re in every town, city and village now — let alone control legal marijuana.”

The Justin Trudeau government introduced legislation Thursday to regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational use and address drug-impaired driving.

Provincial governments will set the rules for how marijuana will be sold in their jurisdictions.

The RCMP estimate Ontario already has about 50 illegal tobacco factories, supplying smokers with a product that is far cheaper than can be found legally in any store, Bryans said.

“And they have the capability of using those machines to make new products such as marijuana and flood the market with it,” he said, adding the demand for cheaper marijuana will likely be much stronger than for tobacco.

The Ontario government has announced many steps to control the spread of contraband tobacco, such as oversight of raw leaf tobacco and increased fines for those convicted of selling the untaxed tobacco.

The government measures tend to be “underfunded, as usual, but over promoted,” Bryans said.

“It’s almost an epidemic in Ontario and nobody wants to fix it,” he said.

Although OCSA sells tobacco, attempts to expand the business model to alcohol were soundly rejected by the provincial government, and Bryans said he doesn’t expect convenience stores to be considered for legal marijuana sales either.

But he said it would be a mistake to allow the vendors currently selling illegal marijuana around the province to handle the legal product.

aartuso@postmedia.com