January 20, 2019

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Opinion

Pot and booze don't mix: CEO

Says marijuana should be sold in stand-alone stores

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Liquor & Lotteries CEO John Stinson decided marijuana shouldn’t be sold in Liquor Marts after he travelled to Denver and Vancouver.</p></p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Liquor & Lotteries CEO John Stinson decided marijuana shouldn’t be sold in Liquor Marts after he travelled to Denver and Vancouver.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/3/2016 (1051 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It has been a year since CEO John Stinson advised the board of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, which was in the process of hiring him, that legalized pot was coming, and the Crown corporation better be prepared for it.

And now it’s been a week since Stinson visited Denver to get the lowdown on Colorado’s legalized marijuana high.

Which is how the CEO of our pot supplier-designate came to offer a one-on-one briefing about the surprise he got on the trip.

Oh yes, and that pair of special socks he brought back. The ones with the marijuana plant design that he bought in one of the Mile High City’s private retail pot shops. The same storefront operation where he got the big surprise. Before he left, his big concern was how pot would be sold in Manitoba once the federal government delivers on its promise to legalize recreational use.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/3/2016 (1051 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It has been a year since CEO John Stinson advised the board of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, which was in the process of hiring him, that legalized pot was coming, and the Crown corporation better be prepared for it.

And now it’s been a week since Stinson visited Denver to get the lowdown on Colorado’s legalized marijuana high.

Which is how the CEO of our pot supplier-designate came to offer a one-on-one briefing about the surprise he got on the trip.

Oh yes, and that pair of special socks he brought back. The ones with the marijuana plant design that he bought in one of the Mile High City’s private retail pot shops. The same storefront operation where he got the big surprise. Before he left, his big concern was how pot would be sold in Manitoba once the federal government delivers on its promise to legalize recreational use.

To some, Liquor Marts seem like a natural regulated fit.

But not to Stinson.

"The quote that got picked up nationally for me was, ‘My mum, my 92-year-old mother doesn’t want to buy her Blue Nun next to the guy buying Jamaican Gold.’"

That, and the booze-buying culture it suggested, is why Stinson arrived at a decision. 

 "We’re not going to put it in our Liquor Marts."

As for a stand-alone operation, Stinson was beyond skeptical.

"I didn’t believe there was a walk-in retail model that could work, that would allow for the social responsibility and control that’s going to be necessary."

Still, Stinson’s political bosses wanted to reap a windfall for the provincial treasury by selling recreational reefers. Initially, Stinson thought the way to that was through the medical marijuana model already at work through mail order and the Internet everywhere in Canada except for British Columbia, where it’s the Wild West when it comes to commercial storefront sales and growing your own.

"So I thought that’s probably how we’re going to have to do marijuana — in a retail setting for medical marijuana."

"There’s no possibility of a storefront kind of retail that’s going to work," Stinson recalled thinking before he flew to Denver. "So I’m going to Colorado to prove that to myself."

While there, he went to the retail store where he bought those socks with the buds on them.

"That changed my entire outlook," Stinson recalled. "I went, here’s a model that can work."

It wasn’t the socks that did it. It was the setting and the service, especially the way one sales person steered a middle-aged pot virgin away from a product that was too powerful for her.

Now, after that experience, Stinson believes the stand-alone model is the way to go after all, but slowly and carefully. Not for maybe another four or five years if they do it right, he said. Starting with two prototype stores, one in Winnipeg and one in rural Manitoba. There’s room for the private sector in producing the product, as it already does for the medical variety. He even sees an economic development model for pot production here, not unlike the wine industry elsewhere.

"I worry," Stinson said, "that the stakeholders, both government and private sector, go ‘Wow,’ rubbing their hands in glee around ‘We can make a lot of money with marijuana, and ‘We can make tons of money to help roads and heath care and all kinds of things.’

"But let’s do it incredibly slow, because the money’s there. Let’s not screw it up. Let’s do it right," he said.

A large part of doing it right is the careful part, including how old someone should be to legally purchase pot. He believes 25 should be the legal age "because at least the initial medical evidence is, particularly for young men, there is risk of mental-health triggers such as schizophrenia."

Stinson’s open to discussion on that age — to a point. "I can saw it off at 21."

He knows younger people will still find ways to buy pot. "But we need, from a responsibility perspective, to control it in a very rigorous way."

Stinson sees Manitoba as an ideal place for the future of pot and its profits. 

We’re not Vancouver or Toronto, where the storefront private genie is already out of the bottle. He thinks Canada, and particularly Manitoba, still has a chance to learn from the U.S. experience and get it right. Or as right as any jurisdiction can. Don’t allow home-growing of pot, for example. He learned that on the side trip to Vancouver. And don’t sell edible products right away; not before setting regulations for enticing treats such as THC-laced pop and gummy bears. 

Those were the other takeaways from the trip. The ones that may not be as easy a fit for the future as that pair of pot-leaf adorned socks Stinson wore to work the other day just for fun. And maybe just to remind his team where he’s been and where they’re going.

 gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

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