Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jul 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Jane Gerster
Page: A4


NDP says government-run Liquor Marts best initial option

THE Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba will likely be the
province's regulator for cannabis, although Justice Minister Heather
Stefanson said "nothing is off the table," 11 months before Canadians
will be able to legally buy it over the counter.

Stefanson spoke with reporters Thursday, shortly after the
Conservative government announced it had issued an expression of
interest to determine how best to deal with the issues stemming from
Ottawa's plan to enact the new law July 1.

The province will gather perspectives from members of the public,
non-profits and the private sector on options for the implementation
of production, distribution and retail sales.

"We are opening this up to get more ideas about how to do this,"
Stefanson said, adding Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is one retail
option. "This is a significant change in public policy, and we want to
make sure we take the time to get it right."

NDP justice critic Andrew Swan said the Tories are guilty of
procrastination. "We already have all the answers to what's being
sought in the expression of interest," he told reporters. "Everyone in
Canada has known now since the (2015) federal election that the
legalization of cannabis was coming, and this government has dragged
its feet."

Swan said Liquor Marts should - at least initially - handle the retail
end and, as is the case with alcohol, private businesses can provide
the same service in communities that don't have a Crown corporation

"I'm not saying this will be the best forever... people may want there
to be separate stand-alone stores and that's fair," he said, but "it
probably is (best) for next July," given that there's less than a year
on the clock.

A federal government task force report made public last December
included storefront sales as one of its recommendations, but urged a
ban on selling cannabis in locations where alcohol and tobacco
products are available.

Stefanson denied the government has delayed matters, noting Manitoba
became one of the first provinces to introduce legislation putting
restrictions on the drug - Bill 25, the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act -
in the spring.

She said the province is continuing to push for clarification on a
"significant number" of questions put to the federal government
concerning safety and public health. It's why Premier Brian Pallister
is among a group of premiers who recently suggested Ottawa consider an
extension to the Canada Day deadline; the request was quickly rejected.

"What if those questions are not answered by then?" Stefanson said.
"It would be irresponsible to move forward."

The union representing Liquor and Lotteries workers says the
expression of interest is a waste of time.

"I'm floored by it. I think this is ridiculous," Manitoba Government
and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronski said.

Last winter, MGEU commissioned a Probe Research phone survey asking
Manitobans' opinions about cannabis sales; 65 per cent of the random
sampling of 1,000 participants said they wanted the government to
handle it the same way booze is sold. The results are considered 95
per cent accurate within plus or minus 3.1 per cent.

"We have an excellent system set up now through the sale of liquor,"
said Gawronski, who clarified that the union would not be
participating in the expression of interest but would instead urge the
government to reconsider it.

Cannabis distribution needs to be public to ensure accountability and
proper training, she said - and to put money back into Manitoba's pockets.

"Right now, Manitobans actually are losing," she said. "We're losing
ERs, we're losing acute hospitals, we're losing services that we need,
urgent care, everything else... take the sales from marijuana and put
it back into services we need."

The expression of interest is open until Sept. 8 and accessible on
merx. com, the Canadian public tendering service.
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MAP posted-by: Matt