Pubdate: Sun, 06 Dec 2015
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Michael Smyth
Page: 6


As B.C.'s largest union and the province's liquor stores join to 
pitch a plan to sell legal pot in booze outlets, critics warn it'll 
lead to a marijuana monopoly

The ballots were barely counted on federal election night when 
British Columbia's largest union began planning its pitch to sell 
legal marijuana in liquor stores.

"On Oct. 19, after the election results, that's when we first started 
having informal conversations about it with our senior staff," said 
Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during that election to 
legalize pot across Canada, assuring voters it would be a top 
priority for his new Liberal government.

The BCGEU, which represents government liquor-store workers, knew it 
had to quickly make its case to get the public and politicians on side.

"It absolutely made sense to us," Smith said. "The infrastructure of 
stores is already in place. We have an age-restricted environment. 
Why create a secondary bureaucracy that would be incredibly costly 
and time-consuming when we already have an excellent system in place?"

Then, about a month ago, the union decided to team up with a 
traditional adversary: the province's network of private, non-union 
liquor stores. The Responsible Marijuana Retail Alliance was born, 
and Smith said the reaction has been terrific.

"It's been overwhelmingly positive," she said, adding the union's 
senior leaders are "very enthusiastic about the idea." No kidding. At 
a time when Premier Christy Clark's government has opened the door to 
liquor sales in grocery stores, the province's existing liquor stores 
have been nervous.

In other jurisdictions where similar liquor reforms were made, 
grocery stores quickly became the dominant retailers of booze.

Adding a marijuana counter in liquor stores would help secure their 
long-term viability, Smith said.

"It certainly wouldn't hurt. It would be a new product line available 
in our stores that would attract consumers."

So is a local Buds' n' Suds Marijuana and Beer Shop coming soon to 
your neighbourhood? Not without a fight. Don Briere, who's been 
called the 'Tim Hortons of cannabis' for his successful chain of 
medical-marijuana and pot paraphernalia stores, says it's unfair for 
the liquor stores to swoop in and "steal" his business.

"They want to butt in at the front of the line," complained Briere, 
owner of Weeds Glass and Gifts. "I've invested years of my life, 
thousands and thousands of hours, to make this a safe, legitimate 
business. The government essentially persecuted us and sent us to 
jail. Now they want to pop up and say, 'Oh, we've decided this plant 
is safe now and we're going to take it away from you.'

"I don't think so. There will be a major, major battle over this."

The federal government still hasn't fully explained how marijuana 
will be legalized in Canada and declined to comment on the 
liquor-store retail proposal. Ditto for the B.C. government, which 
has jurisdiction over the liquor distribution system.

Smith said the liquor store alliance plans to lobby both levels of 
government and possibly launch an ad campaign to gather public 
support. The union leader said the existing strict regulation of 
liquor stores should reassure people worried about a proliferation of 
pot shops springing up in neighbourhoods.

And despite Briere's concerns, she argues there will be opportunities 
for many people to succeed.

"There will be room for growers of all size, including local growers. 
People don't want one brand having a big monopoly."

But a marijuana monopoly is exactly what Marc Emery, B.C.'s famous 
'Prince of Pot,' fears the liquor stores want.

"Yes, the liquor stores have a distribution system and they obviously 
need more products to sell," said Emery, a longtime marijuana 
crusader who served a five-year jail sentence in the United States 
for selling mail-order pot seeds across the border.

"But marijuana and alcohol are natural adversaries - they have 
absolutely nothing in common."

Emery thinks marijuana should be promoted as an alcohol alternative, 
not marketed alongside booze.

"There's nothing inherent in selling alcohol that would make you 
qualified to sell cannabis," he said.

"Liquor stores have no expertise in marijuana. They have no 
credibility in the market. Why would people who buy cannabis trust 
people who sell alcohol? "

But, unlike his cannabis comrade Briere, Emery doesn't think existing 
marijuana entrepreneurs and activists should have a preferential 
right to sell legal pot.

"All Canadians should have the right to be in this business," he said.

"I don't think there should be any preferential treatment to the 
liquor distribution system or to the old marijuana stalwarts like 
myself who toiled for years.

"Everyone should be treated equally and have a fair opportunity to 
get into this business."

He also argues the government should not heavily tax marijuana.

"You can justify high taxes on alcohol and tobacco because they're 
products that inflict huge costs on society. But there's no such 
justification for any kind of punitive, high-tax regime for pot."

But one suspects marijuana will be significantly taxed when Justin 
Trudeau gets around to legalizing it.

Now watch for the B.C.'s liquor stores to keep pressing the case that 
they are the right people to sell it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom