2.8 Million People in Ontario Live in Areas Without Access to Legal Weed

Cannabis has been legal in Canada for the better part two years now, but if you’re visiting or live in the province of Ontario, odds are you’re still miles — er, kilometers — from the closest dispensary.

According to a new report from Global News, Canada’s most populous province is still home to some 2.8 million residents who do not have easy access to legal weed. Thanks to a hasty municipal opt-out period at the start of legalization — followed by a molasses-slow licensing process — huge swaths of the province have passed ordinances to outlaw cannabis sales altogether.

“Up until recently it’s meant very little, because for the first six or nine months of legalization we had a shortage of product,” Brock University business professor Michael Armstrong told Global News. “But going forward, once Ontario starts adding significant numbers of stores — maybe some time this summer we’re going to see more stores open — from that point onwards having municipalities with bans will start to matter.”

For the first year of Canadian legalization, even Ontario cities that opted in to retail and dispensary sales experienced a stagnant licensing process and product shortages. But as the pot supply grows, retailers have still been slow to open. Now, as we’re deep into a second full year of legalization, some of the province’s biggest cities are beginning to revisit their initial retail bans. 

“I think we have an obligation to revisit this issue on a number of fronts. We’re seeing the black market thrive in Mississauga,” said Karen Ras, Mississauga City Councillor. “The other thing is that this is an industry that provides good-paying jobs, and we want to make sure that our residents have access to a legal product.”

In the US, states like California have seen similar municipal opt-outs result in dispensary droughts across wide areas of the Golden State. To counteract the dispensary deserts, California regulators allow delivery services to operate across the state, regardless of local law. In Ontario, residents without local access can bypass local pot shops by ordering a limited cannabis product selection via online delivery

And despite glimmers of hope from local regulators in cities like Mississauga, a number of Ontario municipalities are still standing strong on their anti-dispensary stance, suggesting that the province’s pot shop desert won’t fully bloom anytime soon. 

“The citizens of Richmond Hill were not interested in being part of the cannabis retail process. We had many, many people at many times and events that were adamant that we should opt out as a city,” Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow told Global News. “I’m not interested in seeing it in our city. There’s no reason to have it there. There was a time when there wasn’t a liquor store in Richmond Hill, and you went to the next city.”

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