Doug Ford flip flops on private pot: wants government monopoly, would favour prohibition

March 16, 2018 by  

If you thought Doug Ford was promising a free market for cannabis sales, Doug has some disappointing news for you: that dream is now officially up in smoke. Yesterday, Ford told Alan Carter, the host of Focus Ontario that, for the foreseeable future, he is in favour of the Wynne government’s planned government monopoly on cannabis distribution and sales. Ford even says that, if he had it his way, cannabis would not be legalized at all.

Like deposed PC leader Patrick Brown – who went from opposing the Wynne sex ed curriculum to praising it, and who went from opposing the putting of a “price on carbon” to embracing one – Ford has betrayed a major constituency. Just days ago, Marc Emery (aka “The Prince of Pot”) – who historically has been willing to support any political party that promises to repeal cannabis prohibition, and who is arguably the most well known opponent of prohibition – was willing to support Ford’s bid to win the June 7, 2018 provincial election. Now, however, Emery is livid with Ford: “Only took Doug Ford 24 hours to completely backtrack and reverse his position on cannabis retail in Ontario. Supports the monopoly LCBO model now. No private retail for the foreseeable future. So disappointing!”, tweeted Emery in response to Ford’s interview by Carter.

Those who are more familiar with the big-government history of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party won’t find Ford’s private pot flip flop surprising in the least. The PC party is not a pro free market political party. To the contrary, it is the party that gave us the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) government monopoly on the distribution and retail of all alcohol in the province (Beer Stores in Ontario are a licensed arm of the LCBO, which dictates all booze prices in Ontario). That monopoly was created by the Ferguson conservatives in 1927 and, despite 42 consecutive years of PC government in Ontario (1943 to 1985), the PCs never saw fit to end the monopoly.

At least they were being consistent. The PC party is also the party that nationalized and monopolized hydro in the province, banned private health insurance, imposed a government health insurance monopoly (OHIP), and introduced the provincial income tax to pay for it. Point to just about any government monopoly in Ontario, or to almost any tax (e.g., the gasoline tax, the retail sales tax, the provincial income tax), and you’ll be pointing at a creation of a Progressive Conservative government.

The bottom line: a large portion of the PC party membership – many of whom are social conservatives – are opposed to cannabis legalization. Just as they have been opposed to private sales of booze, they are opposed to private sales of cannabis. Federally, they vote Conservative, and the Conservative Party of Canada has kept their loyalty by not only keeping prohibition in place, but by cracking down on pot (Conservative Justice Minister Rob Nicholson signed the extradition papers that resulted in Emery’s years-long incarceration in the USA). As a healthy proportion of the PC rank and file see it, if the federal Liberals are going to legalize cannabis, the role of the provincial government should be to make it as difficult and impractical as possible to buy the stuff. For them, private stores and a competitive free market for cannabis is just not on, if Ford wants to have their support in the coming provincial election.

This was a particularly humiliating flip flop for Ford and the PCs. Ford had been using all of the usual macho-sounding phrases about “free markets” and government getting out of peoples’ lives. Libertarians and fiscal conservatives were getting excited. But its one thing to talk the talk, and another to walk the walk. Ford’s short-lived free market super-hero role has been revealed to be play-acting; a facade. Here’s how the whole comical spectacle of Doug Ford’s most noteworthy flip-flop (so far) unfolded.

February 15, 2018 (1st PC leadership debate): Steve Paikin asks the candidates about a private sector role for cannabis sales and marketing. Caroline Mulroney gives a tentative answer, focused on wanting to know more about why the current government’s solution – a government monopoly – has been chosen. In response,

Paikin asks Mulroney: “Do I infer from your answer that you do potentially see a role for the private sector in the sale of cannabis somewhere down the road?”

Mulroney: “I do.”.

Paikin: “Doug Ford?”.

Ford: “I agree. This is the emerging market. I think it should be treated similar to liquor, beer, wine. I don’t like the government getting involved. I don’t like the government having a monopoly on any business.”

So as at February 15, 2018, Ford sees a role for the private sector in the sale of cannabis “somewhere down the road”. [ ]

March 12 or 13, 2018: Now the PC leader, Doug Ford is interviewed by the Globe and Mail. It reports as follows: “With the introduction of legal marijuana expected this year, Premier Kathleen Wynne has unveiled plans for a government monopoly called the Ontario Cannabis Store. Mr. Ford said he was open to free-market involvement, but said the government should move slowly in this area.” [ ]

March 13, 2018: During an interview on CBC’s “Ottawa Morning” radio program, host

Robyn Bresnahan asks Ford: “What are your plans for regulation and enforcement of marijuana, when it becomes legal?”.

Ford answers: “Well, this is a new avenue that we’ve, we’ve, uh, you know, we’re going down a path that, uh, no one really knows. Right, right now we’re gonna, uh, sit down, with the caucus. And, uh, I’ve always be open to a fair market. I let the market dictate. I don’t like government controlling anything, no matter what it is.”

Bresnahan: “Oh. So does that mean that you would privatize pot stores?”.

Ford: “Well, let, let’s take a look at it. Again, us, we’re we’re gonna come, come up with a pretty good policy on that and, uh, we’re gonna see.”

Bresnahan: “You are a fan of small business. That’s why I asked you the question. Did…”.

Ford (interrupting): “I’m, I’m open, I’m open to a free market, and I, I’m gonna consult with our, our caucus, and, uh, we’ll be able to, come up with a very strong game plan.”

Bresnahan: “So ‘free market’ meaning that it would not be government-run?”.

Ford: “Well I don’t believe in the government stickin’ their hands in, in, in our lives all the time. You know? I just don’t believe it. I believe in letting the market dictate.” [ (cannabis discussion starts at 11 mins :32 secs) ]

March 14, 2018: At a press conference, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (leader of the Ontario Liberal Party) tells reporters: “I think that, um, a lot of parents would have concerns about cannabis being available beside candy bars in, uh, in corner stores. You know, as a grandmother, I’d be uh, I’d be worried about that. It seems reckless to me. We took a lot of time to develop a plan for distribution of cannabis when it becomes legal, uh, uh, under the federal law. We took a lot of time to, um, figure out how to do a distribution safely and responsibly. I think that’s what people expect. There would be a recklessness to doing what Doug Ford is suggesting. My priority is the safety of young people.” [ ]

March 15, 2018: Doug Ford is interviewed by Alan Carter on the Global News program Focus Ontario.

Carter asks Ford: “You’ve suggested that you would like to see more free market in cannabis distribution. Could you explain that?”

Ford: “Yeah, I, I, I just wanna correct that, and if you play back the record on your sister station, on 640, um, what I, what I said is I think we start off with the liquor stores, and eventually I believe in the free market. So, uh, I just believe in, uh, the free market, and let the market dictate, but we have to be – I wanna emphasize this – we gotta be super, super, super careful. Uh, it’s a road that, uh, we haven’t went down before. We start off, y’know, in our controlled environment under the LCBO. And then, I, I would be open to, uh, putting it out, uh, again, I, I wanna see how it goes first.”

Carter: “I wanna play what the, uh, Premier said, in, in response to your suggestion of more private enterprise.”

Wynne: “…a lot of parents would have concerns about cannabis being available beside candy bars in, uh, in corner stores. You know, as a grandmother, I’d be uh, I’d be worried about that.”

Carter, to Ford: “Is that what you’re talking about?”.

Ford: “No, not, not at all. Um, I know, she’s playing politics, but that, that, that’s fair game. Uh, no, I wouldn’t be in favour of that, and that’s why I say let’s be super super cautious on this, and, uh, it’d be, it’d be concerning. If it was up to me, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t even have this legalized. But, that’s, the Prime Minister made it, uh, legal, and uh, er, going, going to be legal, and we have to deal with it. But I, I’d just, I’d be very cautious.”

Carter: “Are you saying cannabis, or even alcohol, in corner stores under a Ford administration?”.

Ford: “Oh, right now, the, the only issue I have with, uh, alcohol, is that they’ve picked certain retailers and they haven’t opened up the everyone. So, I, I don’t believe that’s fair to retailers, when you cherry pick certain groups and, and not others.”

Carter: “But cannabis in private stores? Would that happen under a Ford administration?”.

Ford: “Now, now, may, maybe down, down the road, down the road but right now I really, at the beginning, it has to be controlled. Let’s see the effects. Let’s just keep it as it is now in the liquor store and then I’d be open to it, if, if it’s alright, if everything goes smooth. If it doesn’t, then we’re keepin’ it in the liquor stores.” [ (cannabis discussion commences at approximately 2 mins: 20 secs) ]

Now, for those who are still looking for a principled defense of free markets, and a consistent record of opposition to cannabis prohibition, fear not. Freedom Party of Ontario released its plank on cannabis sales on February 13, 2018. It promises to eliminate the Wynne cannabis plan, keep government out of cannabis sales, and leave prices and sales in the hands of a free and competitive market. Under that plan, government’s role is to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors, and to ensure that nobody’s life, liberty, or property is violated. You can read the plank here:


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