Pubdate: Mon, 14 Aug 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Dan Lett
Page: A4


IN his struggles to come up with a regime to control the sale of
recreational marijuana, Premier Brian Pallister may have found a
powerful ally.

Shoppers Drug Mart.

Despite a looming July 1, 2018 deadline to have a system in place, the
province has been very reluctant to talk about how it would like to
handle the production, distribution and sales of recreational pot.
Last month, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson issued an expression of
interest to find potential partners and solutions to handle all
aspects of legalized marijuana.

Although it's too early to identify all those responding to the
expression of interest, there is increasing evidence to suggest
Shoppers Drug Mart is one of the interested parties.

Government sources say senior representatives of Loblaw Companies
Ltd., the parent of the pharmacy chain, have already been in contact
with Manitoba to express a burning desire to participate in the sale
of both medical and recreational pot.

This is hardly a surprising development. For the past two years,
Loblaw has been working diligently to build its profile as one of
Canada's most 420-friendly corporate entities.

Loblaw has already applied to the federal government to dispense
medical marijuana. The company has also donated $1 million to St.
Thomas University in New Brunswick to help fund a new research chair
on cannabis. And earlier this year, the company announced its
employees health plan would cover up to $1,500 in medical marijuana to
treat a limited list of conditions.

When you consider all those steps, it only seems to make sense that
Loblaw would expand its interests to include the soon-to-be-legal
recreational marijuana market. The company has certainly been dropping

At Loblaw's annual general meeting

Ilast spring, CEO Galen Weston strongly hinted recreational pot sales
were also on the company's radar. "You can never predict the future,"
Weston said at that time.

That same coyness was evident last week when the Free Press asked
Loblaw Companies directly if it had been in contact with Manitoba over
the retail sale of recreational pot. "We have had discussions with
various governments primarily to share our view that pharmacists
should play an important role in the safe and responsible distribution
of medical cannabis," a Loblaw spokesman said. "At the same time, it
has been speculated that retailers will play a part in provincial
frameworks, and we appreciate the opportunity to gather and share
information in conversation with governments. In the absence of any
confirmed frameworks, it's premature to say what - if any - role we
could play."

Of course, unless Pallister decides to move ahead with a
made-in-Manitoba system for recreational pot sales, the lobbying
efforts of Shoppers Drug Mart will be all for naught.

To date, the premier has put far more effort into trying to delay

July 2018 deadline than he has devising a safe and dependable system
for the production, distribution and sale of cannabis products.

Pallister's effort to get Ottawa to delay legalization of recreational
marijuana for an additional year - unveiled last month at the annual
Council of Federation meeting - seems doomed to fail. Although the
council did strike a working group to probe Ottawa for more details on
what a legal pot marketplace would look like, most provinces are
forging ahead with their own plans. For some provinces, like New
Brunswick, the promise of additional tax revenue has dampened any
appetite for a delay in implementation.

The pointlessness of Pallister's strategy became evident a few days
after the Council of the Federation Meeting when Health Minister Jane
Philpott, during a visit to Winnipeg, said bluntly there would be no
deadline extension for any province. Philpott added there was still "a
tremendous amount of background work" being done between federal and
provincial officials.

Increasingly, Pallister is beginning to look like a leader who is
looking for a way to completely avoid having to implement the legal
sale of recreational pot in his province. Pallister has never said he
is opposed to legalization, but he appears to have deliberately
avoided doing anything meaningful to meet Ottawa's July 2018 deadline.

Some of that is due to the fact Pallister's core support base is
solidly in the constituency of Canadians opposed to Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau's pledge to legalize recreational marijuana.

It doesn't matter that most Manitobans are somewhat or stridently
supportive; decisions that disappoint the base tend to slow the flow
of donations from party members.

It's also likely that Pallister is looking to avoid yet another battle
with public sector unions, many of which are actively trying to
discourage the province from partnering with private retailers or
stand-alone dispensaries.

Last year, the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union
released a poll that showed 65 per cent of Manitobans wanted cannabis
sold and regulated the same way as alcohol. The MGEU has suggested the
province's existing network of government liquor marts would be easily
able to handle cannabis sales.

Pallister may be predisposed to steer clear of the liquor mart option,
which would involve doing something a public sector union actually
wants. However, if he does decide to snub liquor marts, he will have
some support from - of all sources - the federal government. A federal
task force report released last December urged the provinces to avoid
selling cannabis products in locations that also sold alcohol or tobacco.

Interestingly, Shoppers Drug Mart and most other pharmacy chains
stopped selling tobacco years ago. Enough said about that.

It's pretty clear Pallister will have myriad options available to him
well before the federal government makes recreational pot legal. Now,
all he needs is the will to meet next summer's deadline.
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MAP posted-by: Matt