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Thomas demands a “responsible plan” for cannabis sales

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and LBED Chair Denise Davis speak at the Responsible Plan media conference at Queen's Park.

On Oct. 11, just after launching the Responsible Plan campaign for public cannabis sales, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas presented the union’s submission on Bill 36, the Cannabis Statue Law Amendment Act, to the the Standing Committee on Social Policy of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

You can view the full submission here:


And here are President Thomas’s remarks to the committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to present today on Bill 36, the Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act. My name is Smokey Thomas, and I’m the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

I’m here today, because Ontario needs a responsible plan for cannabis. Legalization is one of the most controversial social policy changes in the last decade, and it comes with some big risks – especially for kids. 

It’s this government’s job to lower those risks as much as possible, and that means offering a public retail option. 

At OPSEU, we proudly represents 155-thousand workers in the Ontario Public Service and across the Broader Public Service, including more than eight-thousand members at the LCBO. 

These members are experts on the responsible sale of alcohol. They keep our kids and our communities safe, because they are trained and qualified. They work for the publicly owned and operated LCBO, and they take social responsibility seriously. 

In 2016/2017 alone, OPSEU members at the LCBO challenged more than 14 million customers for identification, and refused sales to more than 250-thousand individuals – mainly because they were underage.

Unlike the private sector, the LCBO is not all about profits – public health and safety matter too.  

The LCBO is a huge asset to this province. It bring in more than 2-billion dollars in profits every year to pay for things like schools, hospitals, and other public services – and it does so in a responsible way. 

It’s tried, tested and true, and most importantly, Ontarians trust the LCBO. The most recent polling from Nanos Research confirms that. 

But with cannabis legalization, we’re entering new and unknown waters. 

I could list a thousand reasons we need to be cautious; the health risks of cannabis use, issues of public safety and drug-impaired driving, and exposing kids to cannabis – but for the sake of time, I won’t do that.

I think we can all agree there are risks. 

But I will add that public health experts have warned for years that kids are at a much higher risk of harm from using cannabis. The rate of cannabis use is more than two times higher in youth compared to adults. This poses a real problem when cannabis is legalized. 

The question is: how do we keep kids safe? According to the most recent Nanos poll, Ontarians choose the LCBO. 

When it comes to preventing cannabis sales to underage kids, Ontarians are 11 times more likely to trust the LCBO than private retailers. 

When it comes to keeping our communities safe, Ontarians are 9 times more likely to trust the LCBO.

There is clearly an appetite for the public LCBO model.  

That’s why in September 2017, following extensive public consultations, the Ontario government announced a safe and responsible plan for the sale and distribution of adult-use cannabis – through the LCBO.

To be blunt, it’s not rocket science. 

With the legalization of cannabis, there are so many unknowns. Quite reasonably, most Ontarians are worried about the fallout – for our kids and our communities. 

According to the poll, nearly 70 per cent of Ontarians are worried about cannabis being sold to underage kids. 

There’s a lot of anxiety, and no room for mistakes. That’s why we’ve got to get this right. 

And with the LCBO model, we’ve got a much higher chance to get it right. That’s what makes it the responsible plan. 

Just think, we’ve got a public asset, with a proven track record. Investing in the LCBO and building on this public asset to sell and distribute cannabis only makes sense.

We had a good plan, and during the election campaign, Premier Ford promised to stick with that plan…on TV.

What changed, and who will benefit? I can assure you it’s not ‘the people.’ The government is creating a wild west of pot shops, and corporate cannabis is sure to be the big winner.  

As it turns out, the cannabis biz in Ontario is just as shady and secretive as it ever was. 

Not only have eyebrow raising connections been made between corporate cannabis and former political staffers like Will Stewart and Melissa Lantsman, we’ve now learned of a secret cannabis warehouse that’s opened. 

We still don’t know who was contracted to run this warehouse or how they were hired. We don’t know whether these jobs were ever advertised or if the workers received any training. 

It’s troubling – the public knows next to nothing, and we’re less than a week away from legalization.  

Since OPSEU is the bargaining representative for workers at the Ontario Cannabis Store, we’re deeply concerned that these warehouse workers don’t even know they’re OPSEU members. After all, there’s been no discussion. 

For a government talking-up transparency and accountability, all this secrecy really stinks. Legalization was meant to bring this business into the light of day, not deeper into some back alley.   

Just a few weeks ago, I was at Minister Fedeli’s big breakfast announcement about Ontario’s finances. His main take-away: we’re far worse off than we thought. 

If that’s the case, and if we’ve got to make “many sacrifices” to tackle our whopping deficit, why are we handing off possibly billions in cannabis revenue to the private sector? It makes no sense. 

I’ll just finish off by saying this: we need a cautious and responsible approach. 

The public retail model – where the workforce is properly trained and qualified – is less risky. The LCBO will do a better job keeping our kids and grandkids safe.

It’s why virtually every public health organization in Ontario supported the public LCBO model. 

It’s also why we’re seeing a growing wave of municipal opposition to the government’s plan. 

Premier Ford says he’s giving cities and towns a choice on cannabis; but it’s really a choice between private retailers and the black market. 

A choice between bad and worse is no choice at all. 

It’s no wonder that cities and towns across Ontario are concerned about private retailers. Leaders in Markham and Richmond Hill are so worried that they’re already talking about opting out of this privatization plan. 

With all the risks that come with legalized cannabis – especially for our kids – cities and towns shouldn’t have to choose between bad and worse. 

Ontarians trust a public retail model for cannabis. It’s safer, and we’ve already got LCBO store locations all across the province that can easily be retrofitted.  

That’s why the government should offer a third option, a public option. Bill 36 must be amended so that a public option is implemented in cities and towns that opt-out of the private retail plan. Otherwise, the black market will flourish.   

The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation must not be prohibited from operating retail stores directly or indirectly.   

With this public option on the table, municipalities can choose what’s truly best for their own communities. 

At OPSEU, we’re focused on the upcoming municipal elections – providing resources to candidates, and encouraging them to take back their power, and say no to this flawed and dangerous plan. 

It’s why I’m here today. 

This majority government can railroad through any plan it wants. But I’ll just remind you that this government and its leader have made some big promises to govern ‘for the people.’ 

Political terms come to an end when governments break promises – just look around this room.

It’s time to listen to the people. Offering a third option is the responsible plan. 

Thank you. I can take your questions.

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