How will the provinces sell pot?

Ottawa’s bill to legalize weed leaves the provinces with hard questions about how to sell the drug. Here’s what some have planned so far.

A cloud of smoke rises above the lawns of Parliament Hill during the annual 420 marijuana rally, Wednesday, April 20, 2016 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

A cloud of smoke rises above the lawns of Parliament Hill during the annual 420 marijuana rally, Wednesday, April 20, 2016 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

The federal government’s long-awaited marijuana legalization bill proposes to allow Canadians 18 and older to buy and cultivate small amounts of pot for personal use or to share with friends, even while it would impose tight restrictions and stiff penalties for drug-impaired driving or supplying minors. But the regulations from Ottawa also leave room for the provinces to decide many of the tough on-the-ground issues, including licensing of producers, distribution and retail sales locations and prices.

Here’s a brief round-up, then, of some of the preferences and ideas floated so far by various jurisdictions across the country:

British Columbia

  • The B.C. Private Liquor Store Association and the Government and Service Employees’ Union joined forces to push for pot to be sold at the province’s 700 private and 200 government liquor stores. The two groups cited their shared expertise and infrastructure in warehousing, distribution and verifying the age of customers.
  • The province’s solicitor-general, Mike Morris, has said he is “not impressed” with dispensaries that were springing up left and right while recreational marijuana sales remain illegal. “It’s a free-for-all out there as far as I’m concerned,” he said.


  • The Alberta Liquor Store Association favoured the idea of its stores handling marijuana sales. The group was displeased when the federal task force recommended against that, and hailed the newly proposed bill for allowing it.
  • The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties wants the province to introduce rules like those in B.C., allowing municipalities to glean more tax dollars from marijuana production in order to offset the cost of enforcing more bylaws.


  • John Stinson, CEO of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, the Crown corporation that regulates and distributes those products, said he favoured selling marijuana in specialty retail stores, separate from alcohol sales.


  • Premier Kathleen Wynne initially said she preferred to have weed sold through provincially-controlled liquor stores. “We have the LCBO in place (and) I think that we’ve demonstrated that that kind of regulation is efficient and is effective,” she said last summer. However, after the federal task force explicitly warned against selling marijuana and booze in the same locations, she backed off that recommendation.


  • Premier Philippe Couillard cautioned, “we should also be careful not to add too many responsibilities on the shoulders of provinces, for example, regulation, implementation, how we’re going to test people for this.”
  • Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, similarly, said the province didn’t want anything to do with selling pot, but rather wanted the feds to sort out the commercial end of things.

New Brunswick

  • The CEO of NB Liquor, Brian Harriman, said his Crown corporation wants to sell marijuana out of separate dispensaries and not its existing stores selling alcohol. His organization planned to present two other options to the province, as well: privately-run dispensaries, or a public-private hybrid model.
  • Premier Brian Gallant’s Liberal government sees marijuana as a job- and revenue-generator, planning a research hub and wooing a handful of producers to set up shop. “The amount of economic growth that we will see throughout the country is significant, and New Brunswick is poised to get a significant percentage of that if we act smartly and we act appropriately,” said Gallant.




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