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Thomas: Why is Ford afraid of a little pot competition?

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas with Toronto Sun logo
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In an op-ed published by the Toronto Sun, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says that Ontarians and municipalities should be able to choose publicly owned and managed cannabis retail stores.

“I still think all cannabis sales, just like all alcohol sales, should be handled by a respectable and responsible public organization like the LCBO,” writes Thomas. “But if it’s competition the Premier and the privatizers want, let’s actually have competition. If it’s important that cannabis consumers have a choice, let’s give them a real choice.

“For those smart municipalities who choose to opt out of the risky and costly private model, there must be a public option available. Otherwise, it will be a bonanza for organized crime.”

Here’s the full text of Thomas’s op-ed:

Thomas: Why is Ford afraid of a little pot competition?

There’s a funny thing about the people who push privatization. They love to talk about competition. But they don’t actually want to face it.

When it comes to the privatization of retail cannabis stores, it’s easy to see why. Facing real competition would mean facing off against the people who’ve made the LCBO such a huge success — a daunting task if ever there was one!

In the worlds of both retail and public services, the LCBO is a fierce competitor and an undeniable winner.

It pays its workers a decent wage, keeping poverty down and tax revenues up. It has won more than 200 awards for customer service, innovative retailing, and social responsibility. It has great stores, fantastic selection, and its average customer satisfaction rating is an incredible 8.1 out of 10.

And the icing on the cake is this: the LCBO belongs to us all. We own it! That means that a huge portion of the profits come back to us, helping us invest in our hospitals, our schools, and our highways. It helps keep our tax rates low and, forgive the pun, our spirits high.

That’s a lot of great reasons for people to choose to take their business to the LCBO.

So it’s no wonder the people hoping to profit from cannabis legalization let out a wild cheer after Doug Ford’s knee-jerk decree that he’s cutting the LCBO and the public sector out of the cannabis retail business.

With their fiercest potential competitor outlawed, their profits got a lot easier and a lot juicier.

“We could not be happier,” wrote a private cannabis retailer in these pages the other day, barely containing his glee. “The private sector, not a new government retail store chain, will be responsible for the operation of cannabis retail stores when legal.”

But ask yourself this: just because a few private retailers are happy, should all the rest of us be happy, too?

Should we be happy that profits from cannabis will be flowing into the hands of the few instead of into our common wealth?

Should we be happy that already over-stretched municipalities will have to foot the bill for all the extra enforcement and regulation that will be required?

Should we be happy that the premier is rejecting the expert opinion and advice of a variety of public health, addictions, and privacy groups who are on the record saying that a public cannabis retailer like the LCBO is the best choice for our common good?

I’m not happy, and I doubt you are either.

I still think all cannabis sales, just like all alcohol sales, should be handled by a respectable and responsible public organization like the LCBO.

But if it’s competition the premier and the privatizers want, let’s actually have competition. If it’s important that cannabis consumers have a choice, let’s give them a real choice. For those smart municipalities who choose to opt out of the risky and costly private model there must be a public option available. Otherwise, it will be a bonanza for organized crime.

I’m calling on Doug Ford to open the ring to all retailers, public and private. Let municipalities and the customers choose.

In an open playing field like that, I’d bet on the success of a public retailer like the LCBO any day of the week. And I suspect the private retailers would too. Which is why they’re so happy that the premier’s current cannabis competition plan offers no real competition at all.

Smokey Thomas is President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).