TORONTO - The Ontario Safety League urged the Liberal government Thursday to crackdown on corner stores that sell crackpipes, bongs, grinders and other drug paraphernalia by taking away their right to sell lottery tickets.
"If the convenience stores are forced to choose between the lucrative sale of lottery tickets and selling drug paraphernalia contrary to the Criminal Code, I believe they’ll chose lottery tickets," said league president Brian Patterson.
However, Finance Minister Charles Sousa insisted the government was powerless to order Ontario Lottery and Gaming to remove a store from its approved list of retailers unless there has been a criminal conviction, even though the province is the only shareholder in the agency.
"We don't have a mechanism within the system with which to remove lottery terminals unless they've broken the law," he said.
"That’s the only way we can do this."
The 101-year-old safety organization recently sent teenage volunteers into 16 convenience stores in southern Ontario, and each was able to buy drug paraphernalia associated with illegal drug use or abuse of prescription drugs.
"The results were astounding," said Patterson. "Each and every store that sold bongs sold them to a 17-year-old no questions asked."
The situation hasn't improved since the league did similar visits to a larger number of retailers last summer, added Patterson, who said only 15 per cent of corner stores sell the illegal drug-related products, and it's never the big name chain stores. Some have started selling small, digital weight scales favoured by drug dealers.
"I don't think they've got them for measuring postage," he said.
Some bongs can sell for up to $70 dollars — always for cash — and are a high profit item for stores because they often get the products on consignment, said Patterson.
"Somebody who wants to have drug paraphernalia in the community is offering them up for free and then they're splitting the (profits) when they sell," he said.
The Partnership for a Drug Free Canada said corner stores should not be selling items that help young people get high alongside bread and milk.
"We strongly believe that selling drug paraphernalia in convenience stores that are often close to schools, and where kids go to spend some time and some money, should not happen," said spokesman Mark Paris.
"We support this initiative and we hope that it will (go) beyond Ontario and across Canada."
The Ontario Convenience Store Association said it supports the Safety League's goal of getting the drug-related items out of corner stores, but believes enforcing the existing federal law is the way to go, not introducing new provincial legislation.
"Canadian law already prohibits the sale of these products," said association CEO Dave Bryans.
The New Democrats said the government should consider the idea of taking lottery terminals out of stores that sell drug paraphernalia, and dismissed Sousa's claims that he couldn't take action without a criminal conviction.
"Simply saying there’s nothing to be done is not proactive enough, and I would urge the government to look at these suggestions in a serious way," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Ultimately we want to ensure that we have young people who are healthy and who are not encouraged to go down that path of drug use."
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