Pubdate: Tue, 16 Feb 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Chris Selley
Page: A8



With the absolute confidence Ontario's Liberals have gained over 12
mostly unchallenged years in power, Premier Kathleen Wynne's
government this week unveiled its plan to allow the sale of wine in
(some) supermarkets, and not just at provincially run LCBO liquor
stores. Suffice to say, as described in the now-traditional Toronto
Star "exclusive," it is a needlessly conservative, maddeningly complex
and unabashedly protectionist pig's breakfast - as is the slowly
unfolding plan to allow the sale of beer in (some)

A myriad of fallacies and contradictions underpin Ontario's liquor
control system: the easily, instantly disprovable notion that
governments can't profit from alcohol sales if they aren't in the
retail business; the commonly expressed worries that non-government
employees might sell to minors, even as 235 licensed supermarkets,
convenience stores and other businesses in small communities across
the province dispense beer, wine and spirits. But there is no
meaningful opposition to it - not even from ostensibly quite
conservative PC Leader Patrick Brown, who supports the pig's breakfast
beer plan.

This casual acceptance of retail incoherence should make it relatively
easy for the Liberals to come to grips with legalized marijuana, if
the federal Liberals follow through on their election promise. In
December, Wynne signalled her appreciation for the idea of selling
weed at the LCBO: "It makes sense to me that the liquor distribution
mechanism that we have in place =C2=85 is very well-suited to putting in
place the social-responsibility aspect that would have to be in
place," she said. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who also runs a
tight regulatory ship, has made similar noises about selling marijuana
in his Liquor Marts.

Quebec, of all places, seems to be pushing back hardest. In October,
when asked about provincially run SAQ liquor stores selling weed,
Finance Minister Carlos Leitao reportedly could barely keep from
giggling. This week, however, he firmly put his foot down - and in a
rather spectacular fashion.

In an interview with La Presse, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had
talked up the Wynne/Selinger model. "If adults can freely buy
marijuana in places like the SAQ, pushers will no longer have the
capacity to sell it to adults, and only selling it to young people
will be both risky and less profitable," he said.

To which Leitao replied: "I have no plan, no idea, no intention of
marketing (cannabis). It will be for the federal government to decide
how to market it."

"I'm not interested; let the feds handle it"? That is not the sort of
thing you hear Quebec cabinet ministers say every day - or ever.
Leitau unsuccessfully tried to walk it back on Facebook, calling the
whole thing a "premature discussion," which it clearly is not.

But if the minister's concerns are somewhat inscrutable, those of
Perry Kendall, British Columbia's public health officer, are very much
not. "Putting a cannabis distribution system within the liquor store
would be counter to public health ethos and the public health goal of
minimizing harms," he told CBC - both inasmuch as it would implicitly
invite customers to combine two drugs that are potentially harmful on
their own, and inasmuch as, per CBC's paraphrase of Kendall, "the way
alcohol is currently sold encourages accessibility and

No kidding. The LCBO and SAQ's glitzy stores and their glossy
food-and-wine-porn magazines are veritable monuments to our addlepated
thinking about intoxicants. Governments have on the one hand a very
serious public health interest in promoting abstemiousness, yet they
don't just sell alcohol - they glamorize its consumption.

The argument Leitao seems to be making - that governments shouldn't be
in the business of marketing drugs - could very easily be made against
the LCBO, SAQ, Manitoba Liquor Marts and every other publicly run
bottle shop in this country. These corporations were designed after
prohibition, explicitly to discourage drinking. They now do precisely
the opposite. We just tend not to notice because alcohol is the
bourgeois drug of choice.

Supporters will argue government liquor agencies encourage moderate
consumption of high-end products: your liver is far better off
spending $20 on a nice bottle of wine instead of two bottles of cheap
sherry. And they have a point. But when you add a whole new
mind-altering substance to the retail mix - albeit, ironically, a far
less harmful one - it lays bare the retail and public health
contradictions in play in most Canadian provinces.

Trudeau insists he's not encouraging people to light up. He'd have a
very hard time making that argument if my local LCBO sold marijuana
the way it sells booze. Ontario is surely doomed to perpetual
incoherence. But for other provinces struggling with how best to get
into marijuana retail, if at all, this could be a valuable opportunity
to re-examine their place in the world of booze shopping.
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MAP posted-by: Matt