Pubdate: Thu, 05 Oct 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: James Wood
Page: A1


Rules for legal weed set minimum age at 18, allow use in public

The NDP government is weighing whether to set up government-run stores
to sell marijuana in Alberta or leave the market to private retailers
when recreational cannabis is legalized next year.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley unveiled the government's proposed
framework for legal weed Wednesday, with the province setting 18 as
the legal age for consumption - matching the age for alcohol and
tobacco use in Alberta.

The province will also mandate that legal weed be sold only in
stand-alone stores, with no sales of alcohol, tobacco or
pharmaceuticals in the same facility.

But the government says it's seeking further input on whether to set
up government-owned and operated stores to sell legal marijuana, as is
being planned in Ontario, or license and regulate private retailers.

"It's a decision all Albertans need to engage in," Ganley said at a
news conference at Calgary's McDougall Centre, the government's
southern Alberta headquarters.

"At the moment, we're open to all options."

Consultations will be open until Oct. 27, with the government planning
to make a decision before introducing legislation in the fall sitting
of the legislative assembly, which runs from the end of October to
early December. Ganley said a public system could provide greater
oversight and control over legal marijuana sales. While the upfront
costs would be significant - and may not be recouped - a
government-owned retail system could bring more revenue to the
province in the long run.

A private retail system would be more flexible in meeting consumer
demand and would provide more economic opportunities for small
business, she said.

However, the province provided no estimates for either costs or
revenue under each model. Ganley said the government did not expect to
generate enough revenue initially to counteract the costs of

Unlike Ontario, Alberta has had no system of government-owned liquor
stores since privatization in the 1990s.

However, under the government's plan, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor
Commission will serve as a central wholesaler for cannabis as it does
for alcohol, ensuring uniform distribution costs and that only legally
produced and federally regulated cannabis products are sold in the

Angela Pitt, justice critic with the United Conservative Party, said
that's a proper role for the commission, but she questioned why the
NDP would consider creating government-owned stores.

"Why do we have to have our fingers in everything?" she said in an

"The liquor store model runs very successfully in this province and
everybody makes a lot of money doing it. … I think there's a lot of
people who are prepared to make a go of this."

The Alberta Party and Liberals are also opposed to government-owned
cannabis stores, though all three opposition parties are prepared to
accept 18 as the legal age for consumption.

The federal Liberal government has set July 1, 2018, as the date for
legalization of legal marijuana but has left many of the details to
the provinces.

Alberta will not change the federal government's public possession
limit of 30 grams - the equivalent of about 40 joints - for adults. It
will also maintain the federal limit of four plants per household.

The province will have a zero tolerance policy for youth possession,
with tickets for those under 18 in possession of under five grams of
cannabis and potential criminal charges for possession over that amount.

The smoking and vaping of marijuana in public will face the same
restrictions as tobacco, with additional bans on use on hospital
grounds, school properties and areas frequented by children. Those
include playgrounds, child-care facilities, sports fields, skateboard
parks, pools, splash parks and public washrooms.

The Alberta government had faced calls from groups such as the Alberta
Medical Association to set the legal age for cannabis consumption at
21 out of concerns about marijuana's impact on young adults' brain

Ganley said that while there are health concerns, people aged between
18 and 25 are the largest users of marijuana in Alberta. Setting the
age higher than 18 would simply enable the black market that
legalization is supposed to eliminate, she said.

"We are not encouraging use at 18 but that is generally the age at
which we allow people to make adult decisions," said the minister.

Cannabis lounges will not be allowed immediately, as edible products
won't be legal until 2019, but could be given the go-ahead in the
future. Online sales may or may not be allowed initially, pending
further review.

The government's plans drew tentative support from companies looking
to move into the recreational marijuana business when it is legalized,
though they want retail to be left to the private sector.

"If they decide to go to a government monopoly, that would be very
concerning for industry," said Peter Pilarski, president of the
Canadian Cannabis Chamber, a group representing cannabis businesses.

"If you allow for a competitive system, then you have competition,
which will lead to innovation and has a better opportunity of driving
prices down. With a government system and union wages and things like
that, it's a bigger challenge. And the government has to basically go
in and spend millions of dollars to build a retail distribution system
and take all of the risk."
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