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Premier Greg Selinger says cannabis products are "highly addictive drugs" that ought to be sold primarily through Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries stores once Ottawa legalizes marijuana.
One day after the Liquor & Lotteries declared it is considering all options for cannabis sales — private retail stores, government outlets or a combination of both — Manitoba’s premier said he’d prefer to see marijuana sold much like alcohol is sold in this province.
"These are all highly addictive drugs and we want to make sure Manitobans get the best opportunity to be protected from them," Selinger said Thursday at the Legislative Building.
"At the retail level, we would like to do it the way we’re doing liquor in Manitoba right now, to make sure it’s safe."
The Trudeau government is expected to legalize cannabis products in the next two years. Pending the specifics of the legislation, Manitoba plans to regulate marijuana through its Liquor & Gaming Authority and have Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries play some role in cannabis distribution and sales.
On Wednesday, Liquor & Lotteries CEO John Stinson said that role won’t be determined until Ottawa provides direction, consultations are conducted and several Canadian provinces study the cannabis retail experience in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, the first three U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana.
Selinger, however, stated he clearly prefers a primarily public retail model, where a Crown corporation handles most marijuana sales.
"We’d like to do it under the system we have, which is a publicly offered service, with some expectations in small communities where there’s no provisions," Selinger said.
"We have a very strong training program for the employees in our liquor retails stores and they offer a high quality of service. And any product they offer, they have to know the risks of it and if there’s going to be additional products offered there, we would expect them to be able to make the public aware of any risks involved in it."
In U.S. states where cannabis sales are legal, recreational marijuana dispensaries employ "budtenders" who advise consumers on the relative merits of various strains of marijuana, which possess different concentrations of THC, the chemical that provides most of the "high" in marijuana, and cannabidiol, which acts more as a calming agent.
Selinger said staff at Manitoba cannabis retailers will be trained but will not smoke marijuana, insisting they can perform their roles "without consuming the products."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation suggested the premier hasn’t given cannabis sales due consideration.
"You have to make it safe, but to just jerk your knee and assume only a unionized, government employee is equipped to handle this?" asked Todd MacKay, the CTF’s prairie director.
Manitoba’s opposition parties, however, don’t have a position on whether cannabis retail sales should be run by the government or the private sector.
"We’re waiting for direction from the federal government on this issue and we are consulting Manitobans," Progressive Conservative spokesman Ross Romaniuk said in a statement.
"We will wait for guidelines from the federal government, but regarding retail options, nothing is off the table," Liberal leader Rana Bokhari said in a statement of her own.
On a parallel track, the Liberals are studying the idea of privatizing Manitoba liquor sales and plan to make a definitive policy statement in December. The Tories say they have no plans to privatize liquor sales.
In Saskatchewan, the Brad Wall government announced this week it plans to privatize alcohol retail sales. Selinger criticized this move, predicting on Thursday it "will destroy hundreds of well-paid jobs" in Manitoba’s western neighbour.