Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear that he's serious about legalizing cannabis nationwide. However, he hasn't told us where he wants the nation's legal marijuana to be sold. All we know is that it won't be for sale at corner stores.
During the 2015 federal election campaign, Trudeau told reporters: "My focus is on making it more difficult for young people to access it [cannabis], and at this point I don't think that corner stores necessarily are rigorous enough in checking ID to make me comfortable with that as an option."
Since then, most of the discussion around where it would be sold is through the nation's liquor stores, which are regulated by government-run monopolies in each province and territory. The only exceptions are Alberta, which privatized liquor stores, and British Columbia, which has privatized stores operating alongside provincial outlets.
Those in favor of letting liquor stores handle the marijuana market include Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and B.C.'s liquor unions. Meanwhile, Bill Blair - the former police chief who has been tabbed by Trudeau to oversee legalization - has said he would consider liquor stores as an option.
But many advocates and activists are opposed. Here's why:
1. There's already a better model
Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, thinks that selling cannabis alongside liquor will create more public health problems: "A lot of people are using cannabis to get off of alcohol, so that isn't a very good message to send," she told Vancouver Metro last December.
Instead, she wants the federal government to adopt the dispensary model for the legal market:
"Dispensaries have 20 years of expertise in providing safe and dignified access to medical cannabis along with education on its use," Shaw wrote in an official statement. "It makes the most sense to utilize the existing distribution system to sell cannabis in a legalized context....CAMCD has developed a thorough certification program to support dispensaries in following best practices and providing the highest quality of care. This should be the basis of regulations for retail distribution."
2. Dispensaries know how to educate pot consumers
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Some activists worry that the liquor stores' emphasis on profit will create even more health concerns. Alex Abellan, founder of National Access Cannabis, told Civilized,
"I'm okay with legalization, but I'm still about responsible dispensing. When you walk into the liquor store, you don't see posters on the risks of using that product. Whereas, when you walk into NAC, you do see those posters. The emphasis needs to be on safe dispensary."
Like Shaw, Abellan wants the federal government to base cannabis retailing on the dispensary model:
"Combine compassionate model with the retail model," he advises. "Which is what NAC tries to do. Take a compassion model and introduce it to a retail model, offering education, risk reduction, and health awareness."
3. Liquor stores could keep the black market in business
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Government-run liquor stores like Ontario's LCBO are notorious for price gouging. And If they inflate the price of cannabis, the black market might benefit the most from legalization. Sean O'Connor, who leads the University of Washington's Cannabis Law and Policy Project, says setting the right price for legal pot is crucial to making legalization work:
"The question we have and that is still somewhat unanswered is: what is the premium that someone is going to pay for stuff that is traceable and that you get to buy in a regular, open, clean cannabis store? We know that people are going to pay some premium, but if it is too much we know anecdotally of lots of folks who feel quite comfortable with their existing underground supply," he told The Toronto Star.
Those comments reflect Trudeau's concern that high prices would benefit Canada's black market. So if keeping cannabis cheap is the best way to combat crime, liquor stores look like a no-go.
4. Pot shoppers shouldn't have to buy at liquor stores
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"If we're going to sell cannabis in liquor stores, I would like to see it in a separate section and with a separate purchase point, so that you don't have to necessarily combine those things. I'd like to see them separated out as much as possible," he told News 1130 last December.
He also wants to see smaller, cannabis-only retailers open up shop as well:
"I do think there needs to be other options for people to be getting their cannabis than only liquor stores, so that those who don't want those things together, and I think we should have messaging around the idea that we shouldn't be mixing those substances together. Clearly, alcohol is far more dangerous than cannabis, but doing them together also can be more dangerous than either one by itself."
5. Alcohol and marijuana are entirely different products
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Marc Emery, Canada's most famous activist, told Civilized that selling cannabis in liquor stores would defeat the purpose of legalization:
"It's not the same product. Marijuana is going to be aimed to compete with alcohol. It shouldn't be sold alongside it. It should be opposite it, in that sense because one of the things we want to do with pot is get people away from alcohol. So it's not really appropriate for an alcohol distributor to be handling our culture and our product. And having a monopoly on doing so, that's a non-starter to me."