With the clock ticking down to marijuana legalization in Canada, the debate over who will get to sell it in B.C. is heating up.
An alliance of private liquor stores and the union representing government liquor store workers is making the case that they are best equipped to handle recreational pot sales, but not everyone agrees.
This week, CKNW’s the Simi Sara Show invited both sides to make their case.
LISTEN: The case for pot in liquor stores
While private and government liquor stores are usually competitors in B.C., when it comes to pot they’re on the same side, and have formed a group called the Responsible Marijuana Retail Alliance of BC to make their case.
“If you look at what governments are concerned about and what citizens are concerned about, they want to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors,” Jeff Guignard, executive director of private liquor store industry association ABLE BC, told guest host Mike Smyth.
Guignard drew a distinction between medical marijuana and recreational sales, saying there may be a role for dispensaries on the health side, but that liquor stores are best equipped to handle retail.
“They want to ensure it’s sold in a very stringently regulated way, that it’s warehoused efficiently, that there’s appropriate security, background checks on the owners — that to me sounds exactly like the liquor system.”
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Guignard pointed to the fact that liquor store employees are already trained to ID people, and are required to take the province’s Serving it Right program, which would allow them to educate customers about safe consumption.
Having trained staff and a distribution network in place could be crucial to B.C. being able to roll out a legal pot program in time for Ottawa’s ambitious summer target, added Stephanie Smith, president of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU).
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“We have the infrastructure in place. It’s a very tight timeline in terms of turnaround if the legislation from the federal government is tabled in July of next year.”
Smith argued that if the province doesn’t opt for distribution through liquor stores, it would have to create an entirely new parallel structure — something she said would be both costly and a risk to public safety.
LISTEN: The case against pot in B.C.’s liquor stores
But Kris Sims, B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, thinks handing liquor stores a monopoly on pot sales could strangle the province’s nascent pot industry.
“If you have somebody who is excellent at what they do, say they are a real connoisseur, they’ve got really good lines on really neat products — we don’t think you should be shutting down those private small businesses as long as they’re responsible.”
Sims said she’s not against allowing liquor stores to sell marijuana, but said it doesn’t make sense to shut other businesses out so long as they play by the rules and keep pot out of the hands of kids.
WATCH: Will marijuana be legalized by July 1, 2018?
Instead, she said B.C. should look at a “blended model” in which the government controls wholseale, but private businesses have the right to sell retail pot.
“Don’t clamp this down to the point where it’s all government controlled and it becomes sterile, and they’ll run the risk of people simply opting for their illegal marijuana dealer rather than going through a storefront,” she said.
Sims argued the concern about driving people to black market dealers becomes even more pressing since the government will an excise tax to pot, driving up the price.
What do you think? Should pot be sold exclusively through liquor stores in B.C.?
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