Imagine if a liquor store clerk had to cap each customer's purchases based on the total alcohol content. That could be 16 bottles of beer, six bottles of wine, or two bottles of scotch. It gets even trickier if a customer buys a bit of each, and the clerk has to make sure they don't exceed the legal limit.
Now imagine it was important for the clerk be knowledgeable about the different effects of each type of alcoholic drink. For example, tequila energizes the body, or gin stimulates the brain, while whiskey does a bit of both.
If you're confused, then you'll appreciate the hard work of budtenders who have to know these things to serve cannabis customers properly. The job requires special training and is in many ways more complex than managing alcohol sales. In other words, it's not likely that both can be handled under the same roof by the same set of employees.
But in the last month, politicians have been calling on the Trudeau government to hand the marijuana market to provincial liquor stores. While taking questions from the press on Dec. 14, 2015, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said, "It makes sense to me that the liquor distribution mechanism that we have in place — the LCBO — is very well-suited to putting in place the social responsibility aspects that would need to be in place."
Warren "Smokey" Thomas - the head of OPSEU, the union representing Ontario's liquor-store employees - agrees. Last month, he similarly called for each province's liquor retailers to manage the sale of legal cannabis.
On Dec. 2, British Columbia's two liquor unions - the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union and the B.C. Private Liquor Store Association - announced they were teaming up to lobby for control of cannabis sales in the province. BCGEU president Stephanie Smith told reporters, "when this happens, it ought to be sold in the most socially responsible way possible, in an age-controlled environment with the strongest track record of checking identification."
Their arguments are similar to those offered last month when Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow Liquor Mart to manage the province's cannabis market.
Their arguments are similar: liquor-store employees are already trained in handling the sales of controlled substances restricted to adults of legal drinking age. They know how to check identification and to refuse service to anyone who appears intoxicated.
But, again, people who work in the cannabis industry require specialized training to safely and effectively serve their customers. Here's why:
1. The distinction between medicine and recreation
Before Canada decides who can sell cannabis, the federal government needs to figure out how it's sold.
Right now, storefront dispensaries for medical marijuana are illegal across Canada (with a few gray areas). That will likely change once Trudeau legalizes cannabis. But the country will have to figure out whether cannabis retailers and dispensaries will be kept separate (as in Oregon) or allowed to co-locate, as in Colorado.
If Canada follows Colorado's model - which Trudeau has hinted at - then retailers will need to understand the ins and outs of cannabis as medicine versus cannabis as recreation. In Colorado and Washington, age limits, maximum amounts that can be purchased, and taxation differ depending on whether someone is buying cannabis for personal enjoyment or as medicine.
2. Cannabis comes in many forms and devices
Beyond the crash course in cannabis laws, retailers will also need an introduction to cannabis culture. THC comes in many forms, including dried flower, edibles, oils, and concentrates. Each form has a different THC concentration, so the amount of edibles versus oils versus dried flower that a customer can purchase often varies. That means employees will need to be adept at calculating THC at point-of-sale.
On top of that, there are many conventional, as well as unconventional, methods for consuming cannabis. Retailers will have to know the basics about each method in order to market their products properly.
In addition, stores in legal states that allow residents to grow cannabis at home also sell immature plants and seeds. If Canada follows suit, retailers will have to add the basics about cannabis botany to their laundry list of other new skills.
3. Cannabis isn't just a product - it's a lifestyle
If liquor store employees are put in charge of cannabis, they must also be able to offer advice to customers on what products are best for smoking, vaping, cooking, etc. Sure, there are many different types of whiskey and gin. Vintage and quality may vary, but they all have similar effects when it comes to intoxication.
In contrast, Leafly's catalog includes over 1,000 strains of cannabis, and each one has different tasting notes as well as effects. Some stimulate the mind and energize the body. Others relax the mind and body to promote sleep. Customers will undoubtedly want to know what they're putting in their pipes or vape pens. And it's the job of the retailer to tell them.
Liquor-store employees could learn to do that, but with the new laws, regulations, products, equipment and other aspects of cannabis culture to study, it might be best to keep spirits and buds separate.