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EDITORIAL: Sales pitch goes unheeded

A lot of sides want a piece of the action – not surprising considering the high hopes many have for profits in selling legal marijuana.

What provinces decide about the matter is coming very much under scrutiny these days, particularly after Ontario announced rules that put sales entirely in government hands – much to the chagrin of the private sector. The province will sell the product, when legal as of next July, through the corporation that sells liquor, the LCBO, although in separate outlets.

That move from Canada’s largest province has entities elsewhere in the country getting in pre-emptive shots to let their wishes be known.

In Quebec, the convenience store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard has aired its wishes that it would like to sell marijuana. The executive chairman, Alain Bouchard, says Crown corporations cornering the market would be a step backwards.

That position is an apparent response to the Ontario move, since Quebec has yet to announce any decision on how it would proceed. But the government there has so far declined hearing the company’s proposals on the matter.

From the private sector’s side, should they get their way on this, government and the public will expect a high degree of responsibility. One issue gets repeated whenever the prospect comes up of convenience stores selling beer and wine (outside Quebec and Newfoundland) comes up: that is, such requirements as checking identification of purchasers to ensure their age.

That’s not exactly rocket science, and surely someone who is not a government employee should be capable of learning such strategy. But the concern is also raised that minors often work in these stores, and shouldn’t be selling a product they can’t legally buy.

Another is overall security in a retail outlet that sells lucrative products, such as booze, tobacco and, perhaps one day, marijuana.

These issues should not represent a brick wall for the private retail sector, but they are points they would need to address for a successful pitch in this new area. People will also expect knowledgeable staff to sell a product that – by its very nature – is rife with mysterious elements.

At any rate, many have offered criticism on the Ontario plan to set up a monopoly on sales. The province has said it would initially have 150 outlets.

Seriously? Has anyone checked lately how many square miles make up that province? Do they seriously think a consumer outside main population districts is going to make a run of a hundred kilometres or so for a purchase?

New Brunswick has also said it would hand the job to a Crown corporation.

It’s sounding a lot like we’re moving from Prohibition to Prohibition 2.0 – and really, the theory behind legalization was to take marijuana out of the hands of criminals and regulate sales.

If provinces don’t come up with legislation and regulations that make sense, people will happily ignore them, and access marijuana in the old, familiar places. And even if they aren’t familiar with former, illegal sources, you can bet plenty will be happy to take up the opportunity if legitimate sales locations are too difficult to access.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, many other questions about regulations and controls remain, and the federal government doesn’t appear willing to move the deadline. This is shaping up to be the classic bummer for certain stakeholders – it won’t take long to find out who they are.

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