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NSLC to have monopoly on cannabis after legalization

Cannabis will be sold in same stores as alcohol, legal age set at 19

5 min read
caption Cannabis is set to be legalized in Canada in July 2018.
Caitlin Leonard
caption Cannabis is set to be legalized in Canada in July 2018.
Caitlin Leonard

When cannabis becomes legal next year, anyone 19 or older will be able to buy it from the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation at their local stores or online.

Justice Minister Mark Furey rolled out the province’s first set of cannabis policies at a media conference on Thursday, describing the distribution plan and legal consumption age.

“I want to be clear – today’s decisions and those we will make in the days to come are all rooted in our primary objective of public safety and public health, particularly around our youth,” said Furey.

caption Justice Minister Mark Furey (left) answers questions on cannabis policy Thursday.
Colin Slark

He said Nova Scotia would be following the lead of other provinces, except Manitoba, that have announced its legal age for cannabis will be the same as its legal drinking age.

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He said that they agreed with the possession guidelines as proposed by the federal government which include:

  • Personal possession limit of up to 30 grams
  • Personal cultivation limit of up to four plants per household
  • Provincial penalties for youth possession of up to five grams

Distribution and sale of cannabis, which is on track to become legal in Canada on July 1, will be controlled through the NSLC. Sales will occur in stores and online. The sale of cannabis through private liquor agencies is not currently in the works.

The government also confirmed that cannabis will not be sold in separate stores specializing only in cannabis.

NSLC spokesperson Beverley Ware says the Crown corporation is up to the task.

“We do have extensive experience in retailing in a highly regulated substance, so we believe that we have the experiences, the expertise and the team in place to be able to deliver on this and to have everything in place for July of 2018,” she said.

Ware also said that if the NSLC were to institute home delivery for cannabis, it would be through a registered courier that would have to ensure that the person accepting the package is legally allowed to possess the substance.

Survey says

The province is basing its guidelines in part on a series of public consultations held this October with communities, people and public stakeholders.

While 49 per cent of survey respondents said they wanted the NSLC to handle distribution, 56 per cent said cannabis sales should be handled through standalone locations that don’t sell alcohol.

When asked why the government was going against views expressed in the survey, Furey said that in terms of overcoming the logistics of cannabis distribution, “the Nova Scotia Liquor (Corporation) is the best place to do that for us.”

The survey of 31,031 Nova Scotians was conducted between Oct. 6 and 31. Of the respondents, 56 per cent live in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Among the statistics from the government’s report:

  • 75 per cent said they supported a legal age of 19
  • 60 per cent of health-care professionals supported a legal age of 19
  • 78 per cent supported the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis
  • 49 per cent thought that cannabis should be for sale in the same stores as alcohol
  • 73 per cent agreed with some outdoor use of recreational cannabis
  • 35 per cent agreed with a ban on outdoor public use

Furey said that in the beginning, Nova Scotia will not be able to produce enough cannabis to meet demand and product will need to be imported from elsewhere.

Opposition reacts

Karla MacFarlane, Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative justice critic and MLA for Pictou West, calls the government’s decision to sell cannabis in the same location as alcohol “shameful.”

“I don’t believe that the government should be in the business of being in business,” MacFarlane said of the plans to have the NSLC distribute and sell cannabis.

caption PC justice critic Karla MacFarlane (left), disagrees with the government’s plans.
Colin Slark

The NDP, on the other hand, support the plans of the governing Liberals.

“In our view, this is the right road. We think the government has made the right decision and we affirm it,” NDP Leader Gary Burrill told reporters.

Furey stressed that these policy announcements are just the start of the government’s platform on cannabis.

“We’re taking the time to get this right, and as we make decisions we will share those with you,” he said.

Revenue split ‘unreasonable’

The Canadian Medical Association recommends a legal age limit of 21 and limiting the potency of cannabis for users under 25. But Furey said that wouldn’t work because they’d be criminalizing users under 25, the largest group of consumers.

“It was necessary to find an age that would transition the consumer from the illicit market to the legal market,” he said.

Furey said that he believes the 50-50 revenue split the federal government has proposed to share with the provincial government is “unreasonable” to the provinces. However, he does not know what number the provinces would consider reasonable.

“It is our intention to try and influence a larger part of the revenue,” he said.

Furey said that cannabis dispensaries currently considered illegal by the government will continue to be considered illegal after legislation.

The University of King’s College, through which The Signal is run, was one of the public stakeholders consulted in the production of the government’s report.

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