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How Queen’s Park is gearing up to be the largest legal pot dealer in Canada (and maybe the world)

"Ontario’s new government monopoly kicks into gear in July, when the legalization of recreational weed takes effect. Here’s what you need to know.

Finance Charles Sousa joked at a Toronto Regional Board of Trade meeting in November about Canada becoming the "world's biggest pot dealer." (CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

Charles Sousa was half-joking about toking.

“I was with some high school buddies last week — you remember the guys from high school — and they said to me: ‘who’d have thought it would be you that would one day aspire to become the world’s biggest pot dealer?’ ” the Ontario finance minister said last fall.

“My parents would be so proud. I’m not so sure about my daughter, who’s sitting right here. But I guess it makes sense — I was raised in Kensington Market,” he quipped.

Sousa’s lighthearted comments during a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade in early November herald a significant development.

Indeed, by this time next year, Queen’s Park will be the biggest marijuana dealer in Canada — and perhaps the largest legal seller in the world. (Unlike most jurisdictions where marijuana is legal — such as California and Colorado, where private-sector outlets are allowed to sell cannabis — Canada’s most powerful provincial government will enjoy total control over retail sales.)

When the federal government’s legalization of recreational weed takes effect in July, the Ontario government’s new monopoly will kick into gear.

The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, an LCBO subsidiary, will operate 40 stand-alone marijuana shops as of next summer, rising to 150 outlets by 2020.

Read more: Canadian pot companies have lifted the lid on hiring

Fourteen municipalities will have the first stores: Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Hamilton, Barrie, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Windsor.

They will operate under retail branding still being developed and be staffed by members of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, which also represents Liquor Control Board of Ontario workers.

Like the LCBO stores of old — and the existing legal dispensaries — the product will only be sold from behind the counter and no self-service is planned.

The provincial government will also control online sales so that recreational weed is available in every corner of Ontario through the Crown monopoly.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi warns the remaining “dispensaries” still operating illegally in Toronto and other cities will be legislated out of business.

“We are committed to eliminating the illegal market and taking down illegal cannabis storefronts,” says Naqvi.

“These storefronts are not legal now and will not be legal retailers under our … model. We know that establishing a safe and responsible cannabis retail environment means providing law-enforcement officials with the tools they need to put a stop to the illegal sale of cannabis.”

There will be cash fines for the black market operators — and their landlords — of up to $1 million and jail terms that could last as long as two years less a day.

Only those 19 and over will be permitted to buy, consume or grow marijuana — and usage will be restricted to private homes.

Homegrown pot will be allowed, but only up to four cannabis plants can be cultivated and just for personal use.

Smoking marijuana will continue to be outlawed in all public places, offices, vehicles and boats. There will be stiffer penalties for motorists who get behind the wheel under the influence of weed."...

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