Union demands LCBO be allowed to compete for cannabis retail licences

TORONTO, ON - JULY 26 - Generic images of LCBO store at Cooper St. in Toronto, July 26, 2016. (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The union representing Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) workers wants the Crown corporation to compete with private cannabis retailers in the province.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president Warren “Smokey” Thomas is calling upon the provincial government to run a needs assessment to determine the right number of brick-and-mortar pot shops.

He suggests the LCBO either be allowed to open new stand-alone cannabis stores to meet demand, or enter a third lottery to be held by the provincial regulator alongside new private applicants in order to obtain retail licences.

OPSEU has approximately 155,000 members across Ontario, including LCBO workers.

“Why is Doug Ford afraid of competition between public and private on cannabis? If he thinks competition works, then maybe this will be a good thing. Maybe we’ll squeeze out the black market faster,” Thomas told Yahoo Finance Canada. “He’s botched the cannabis file terribly.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford scrapped his Liberal predecessor’s plan for a fully-public system shortly after taking office, opting instead for private retail stores and provincially-run online sales.

The roll-out of stores has been slow. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) held a lottery late last year for the first 25 retail licence applications. Many winners were not ready to open on the April 1 deadline. Earlier this month, the AGCO announced the winners of a second lottery for 42 store applications in the province, as well as eight slated for First Nations reserves.

The AGCO has not released details regarding additional lotteries.

“The private sector has had more than a year to set up the legal cannabis system, but they failed at every turn,” Thomas said. “We still have far too few stores.”

Thomas points to British Columbia, where public and private cannabis stores co-exits. He said stores managed by the LCBO could also help win trust in Ontario communities that opted out of allowing private brick-and-mortar cannabis stores.

“You don’t have to worry about any nefarious players being involved because it’s publicly run,” Thomas said.

A spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said the province is not looking to open physical cannabis stores.

“We firmly believe that government should not be in the cannabis retail business, particularly at a time when we are focused on lifting the province out overwhelming debt left behind after 15 years of the Liberal’s reckless spending and mismanagement,” Jenessa Crognali wrote in an emailed statement.

The LCBO did not respond to a request for comment.