The provincial government announced Thursday that pot will be sold through certain Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. outlets and online when recreational marijuana is expected to become legal in Canada next year.
The legal age to use, possess or purchase marijuana will be 19, the legal drinking age in Nova Scotia, Justice Minister Mark Furey said at a news conference.
People will be allowed to have up to 30 grams for personal consumption. They will also be allowed to grow up to four plants per household.
The Trudeau government introduced legislation in April with the goal of legalizing marijuana by July 2018, but left it to the provinces to determine details such as how it will be sold.
The Nova Scotia government did not specify how many NSLC stores will carry marijuana, and said more details will be announced down the road.
“The NSLC has the experience and expertise to distribute and sell restricted products like alcohol and now cannabis in a socially responsible way,” said Furey.
“We believe the NSLC is best positioned to sell cannabis, keeping it out of the hands of young people and making it legally available in a safe, regulated way.”
The minister initially told reporters online sales would include home delivery, but later admitted that was a mistake and it was up to the NSLC to decide how to get pot into the hands of those who order it over the internet.
Furey said the dispensaries that exist today will be illegal.
PC MLA Karla MacFarlane called the decision to allow pot sales in outlets that already sell wine, beer and spirits “shameful.”
“The danger is impulse,” she said. “I’ve heard it from many youth, when you walk into a liquor store and you have the opportunity as well to purchase marijuana. The science is out there, the data is out there the two shouldn’t be mixed.”
NDP Leader Gary Burrill offered an opposite view, commending the government for choosing “the public sector road.”
“In our view this is the right road, we think the government has made the right decision and we affirm it.”
Unlike New Brunswickers, Nova Scotians will not be required to lock up marijuana, Furey said. The government anticipates people will secure cannabis as they do prescription medications and alcohol.
The justice minister also said one of the challenges will be for the NSLC to obtain enough marijuana to meet the expected demand.
The province will try to use production facilities approved in Nova Scotia. Only two facilities in Nova Scotia have so far been approved by Health Canada to cultivate marijuana, although they do not yet have licences to sell.
“But our objective is to secure the product locally,” said Furey.
He said he doesn’t believe the current proposal by Ottawa to split tax revenues from pot sales 50-50 with the provinces is fair. Finance Minister Karen Casey will head to Ottawa on Sunday to discuss the topic.
Furey said the medicinal stream is a separate regulatory process controlled by the federal government.
Results of online survey
The province said it had been guided by the results of an online survey completed more than 31,000 times, and by conversations with 149 individuals who took part in focus groups led by MQO Research on behalf of the government.
But those consultations provided less-than-conclusive results to some of the key questions about the sale and distribution of cannabis. For example, respondents were split over whether they supported the government’s preferred option to have the NSLC sell pot.
Only 49 per cent of respondents indicated they either somewhat agree or completely agree with the Crown corporation taking on the role of main distributor.
Researchers got the same response to the question of whether cannabis should be available through online ordering, with home or store delivery operated by a Crown corporation.
More than half wanted stand alone stores
Slightly more than half (56 per cent) supported the notion that recreational cannabis be available in new standalone stores operated by a Crown corporation, rather than alongside beer, wine or liquor in already existing NSLC outlets.
The results were more conclusive when it came to the question of the legal age for smoking marijuana. Seventy-five per cent of those who completed the survey indicated they supported the legal age limit of 19.
Most health-related organizations who weighed in, however, suggested 21 or 25 years old would be a more appropriate legal age limit for cannabis. They were most concerned about the protection and health of young people, particularly the effects of cannabis on the developing brain of people under the age of 25.
There was a similar 75 per cent support for placing some sort of restriction on smoking or vaping in public, but only about a third of respondents supported an outright ban on smoking in public.