Ontario launching public awareness campaign on cannabis legalization

TORONTO — Ontario is launching a public awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of using recreational cannabis and promote social responsibility ahead of the legalization of marijuana next week.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said the ads will emphasize the province's rules around the sale and consumption of pot, as well as measures to protect children and the community.

"Our message will remain clear," Mulroney said Tuesday during a speech at Toronto's Empire Club. "We will plainly tell Ontarians how our children, communities and roads will be protected, and how we will work to combat criminals."

Mulroney said the advertisements will run next week in traditional media as well as on digital and social channels to reach a younger audience. 

"It should go without saying that these ads do not promote cannabis use or the cannabis market," she said. "(The ads) will focus on social responsibility, including the serious health and addiction risks of short- and long-term cannabis use."

Last month the Progressive Conservatives announced they were moving to a private retail sale model, shifting away from the previous Liberal government's plan to sell pot in publicly owned shops. Under the Liberal plan the province would have had 200 pot stores by 2020.

The Tories estimate their plan will see between 500 to 1,000 shops licensed a short time after legalization with no cap placed on licences.

Mulroney said the Liberal plan would have failed because there would not have been enough stores open after legalization.

"If I could be frank, we concluded that such a system was incapable of seriously competing with the illegal market and in turn would leave our communities more vulnerable and susceptible to the underground market," she said.

The provincial government has said it would sell recreational cannabis online when it is legalized on Oct. 17, with private retail stores set to be in place by April next year.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will regulate the marketplace, and will have the power to grant — and potentially revoke — licences as well as enforce provincial rules on cannabis sales. On Tuesday, Mulroney emphasized the agency will focus on enforcement and emphasized the presence of the agency's embedded provincial police unit during her remarks.

"Nobody in Ontario has the right to a cannabis retail licence," she said. "The AGCO's due-diligence process will be strictly applied and thoroughly enforced, and the role of the public commentary in this process is real."

The Opposition New Democrats said the government's ad campaign was coming far too late.

"The government has known about the Oct. 17 date for quite a while," said NDP legislator Peter Tabuns. "I think what we're going to have now is a very rushed process."

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

Latest Blogs