Pubdate: Sat, 15 Apr 2017
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Andy Riga
Page: A15


Will you be able to pick up a bag of pot at a Societe du cannabis du
Quebec, run by the same people who sell you wine and scotch?

Employees of the province's liquor stores - the Societe des alcools du
Quebec (SAQ) - hope so.

But Montreal's public-health system is dead set against that idea,
suggesting the SAQ should not be a model because it promotes the use
of alcohol to fill government coffers.

On Thursday, Ottawa announced its long-awaited legalization plan,
saying it wants to provide regulated access to recreational cannabis
no later than July 2018.

But, like many aspects of the plan, distribution details haven't been
worked out.

The Quebec government is reportedly considering tapping the SAQ to set
up a smaller, parallel network of stores to sell marijuana. But it has
not ruled out distribution via pharmacies or other private companies.

With just over a year to go before the planned legalization, Alexandre
Joly, head of the union representing 5,500 SAQ employees, said Premier
Philippe Couillard must quickly answer the fundamental question of how
distribution will work.

Otherwise, "other players will fill the void and the government risks
losing control."

Only a state operation "whose social and financial objectives are
defined by the government" is in a position to "ensure the strictest
respect for government standards and the framework," said Joly,
president of the Syndicat des employes de magasins et de bureaux de la

In December, the union released a study that suggested the economic
spinoffs would be higher if the SAQ controlled pot

The SAQ could add $457 million to the provincial treasury in the first
year of legalization, according to the study, by the Institut de
recherche et d'informations socioeconomiques.

Within 10 years, the study said, the value of Quebec's pot market
could climb to $3.2 billion per year.

"The SAQ is better equipped to withstand the pressures from players in
the black market and (provide) a more secure framework for the sale of
a product that poses risks to public health," Philippe Hurteau,
co-author of the study, said in December.

The study, which the union helped finance, recommended giving the SAQ
distribution rights for the first 10 years, after which the government
could reassess the situation and possibly open the market to the
private sector.

However, Montreal's public health department says if the government is
involved in selling pot, a new provincial agency should be in charge -
one that would not be under government pressure to increase profits.

"Such a monopoly should not be regarded as a major source of revenue"
for the province, the department said in a recent report. "The SAQ,
from which the government demands profits, is not a model."

Quebec "must take all necessary measures to prevent legalization from
leading to an increase in (marijuana) consumption," it said.

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, who oversees the SAQ, seemed to
rule out a government role in distribution last year. "I have no plan,
no idea, no intention to market cannabis," he said in February 2016.
"It will be up to (Ottawa) to determine how to commercialize it. I'm
not interested in that."

But that was before Ottawa announced a plan that leaves the decision
on how pot will be distributed in the hands of the provinces.

Quebec has complained that Ottawa's project is vague, off-loads new
responsibilities onto provinces, and fails to explain who will cover
the cost of legalization.

In December, a federal task force recommended against distributing pot
in stores that also sell alcohol, echoing the public health
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