The difference of perception toward cannabis businesses in British Columbia and Ontario is night and day. The municipal governments in BC have found that treating the retail cannabis industry with the same dignity as any other tax generating industry to be the ideal course of action. Vancouver and Victoria are well ahead of the curve by licensing dispensaries and lounges while benefitting from tax revenue.
Conversely, politicians in Ontario seem to believe that by licensing and regulating the existing businesses they are giving in to the black market. Toronto and Ottawa are resisting this growing industry and are spending incredible amounts of taxpayers money in order to shut down cannabis businesses. One is left wondering why there is such a huge disparity in opinion between these two provinces.
It is likely influenced in part by the history each province has with the cannabis plant. British Columbia is world renowned for its “BC Bud”. Many of the growers there span across generations and demographics allowing the cannabis culture to thrive equally in big cities and small towns across the province.
Cannabis has become ingrained in the British Columbian culture and economy making it widely accepted by the general population. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are considered by many to be some of the most left-leaning and socially progressive regions in Canada. Even among the small groups with conservative values there is at least an understanding that cannabis is here to stay. This does not mean that it is necessarily approved of especially by law enforcement agencies. However, it means the mayors of Vancouver and Victoria have taken the pulse of their city and understand the demand for storefront retailers and safe spaces to consume cannabis. This understanding has evolved into a licensing process which has consequently increased transparency and business standards for an industry which had lacked oversight.
While cannabis has been largely tolerated in Ontario it never found its way into the culture of the province as it did in BC. Toronto and Ottawa are facing political and social challenges in response to a surge in cannabis businesses. Private dispensaries have existed in Toronto for over 15 years; however, with the recent influx of publicly advertised storefronts many people have become uneasy. While many see it as activists demonstrating how they believe legalization should operate, others see it simply as drug dealers flouting the law to make some quick money. The municipalities in the east are less hospitable to the cannabis boom while those on the west coast are willing to negotiate what may be the framework for legalization.
As much as those of us in drug policy would like to believe that politicians rely on evidence in making decisions that impact community health and safety it is about public opinion and optics more often than not. With this in mind it is no wonder that with the rich history of cannabis culture in BC the governments have taken a more open approach to what is clearly going to be a part of our Canadian landscape. Politicians of Ontario should follow the lead of their neighbours to the far west and license cannabis businesses to bring prosperity, equity, and safety to their communities.