Government-run pot sales better than private retail: law prof
This Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, photograph, shows the logo on the front of jars of marijuana buds marketed by rapper Snopp Dogg in one of the LivWell marijuana chain's outlets south of downtown Denver. (AP / David Zalubowski)
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Monday, November 13, 2017 3:05PM EST
Manitoba is blazing a decidedly different trail than Ontario and New Brunswick when it comes to plans for dispensing marijuana at the retail level once recreational sales become legal nationwide next summer.
The regional split pits public sector control in the East squarely against a regulated privately-run market in the West as the planned July 1, 2018 legalization date draws closer.
So far, the three provinces are the only ones to spell out how they will approach the day-to-day business of legally dealing pot to non-medical consumers.
While an emerging patchwork of provincial policies may sound like a regulatory nightmare in the making, University of Windsor law professor Bill Bogart is convinced regional diversity at the onset will be a windfall for Canada down the road.
“Historically, provinces have been the laboratory of our democracy. That is where the experimenting comes in terms of social policies,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday. “In the end, we hope that best practices emerge, and the other provinces adopt those practices.”
Both Ontario and New Brunswick have opted of to sell marijuana through retail outlets operated by their respective liquor control boards.
Ontario’s plan calls for an initial batch of 40 stores at the onset, coupled with online sales. The province has plans for approximately 150 stand-alone retail locations by 2020. Earlier this month, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario named the first 14 cities where it plans to open shops through a subsidiary.
New Brunswick is following in Ontario’s footsteps. The province’s NB Liquor plans to operate 20 locations in 15 communities, in addition to online sales, with more stores to be rolled out based on “market capacity and demand.”
“There are of course concerns with the Ontario model. One of which is the number of stores,” Bogart said.
He worries the province will be too slow to ramp up its retail operation, leaving room for black market dealers to seize hold of newly energized consumers. It’s a scenario that could undercut a major government justification for legalizing marijuana -- clamping down on criminal revenues.
Manitoba Premier Brian’s “hybrid option” puts distribution in the hands of private retailers who will be free to market their products, with some restrictions.
Private retailers have until Dec. 22 to submit proposals. Successful applicants will be regulated by the province’s Liquor and Gaming Authority when it comes to purchase, storage and distribution. The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation will secure and track the cannabis supply within the province.
Bogart said Manitoba’s plan is still in the early stage, but he expects the province will draw revenue by both issuing licences and collecting a portion of overall sales.
In this case, he worries the first batch of newly licensed retailers will naturally be inclined to grow their market share as rapidly as possible, within the bounds of the law.
“If you put it into private retail at the get go, there is much more pressure for people to consume, because that is how retailers are going to make their profits,” Bogart said.
For that that reason, he prefers the Ontario model over Manitoba’s, at least at the onset of Canada’s foray into legalized cannabis. Government regulation, he explains, is much easier to pare back then push forward.
“Start off cautiously. Have lots of government control,” Bogart said. “You can always loosen the reins.”