Pubdate: Sat, 14 Oct 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: James Wood
Page: A2


It doesn't make sense to invest (public) money to set up
infrastructure here.

Premier Rachel Notley won't say which way her NDP government is
leaning when it comes to sales of legal cannabis, but she insists the
province is carefully weighing the merits of both the public and
private sector options.

Under its policy framework unveiled last week, the NDP will allow
recreational marijuanato be sold only in stand-alone stores once it is
legalized next year, but the government is still weighing whether to
set up a system of government owned and operated stores, or leave
retail to the private sector.

Speaking to reporters Friday in Calgary, Notley said the government
has reached no conclusion on what she called "a big decision," and
said there are numerous factors at play in its deliberations.

"One of the issues there to balance is public safety and quality
control in terms of keeping the product going to the people who should
legally have it, versus getting it out the door as quickly as we can,"
she said.

"Going the route of the private sector meets the latter objective,
going the route of the publicly-managed system - it might be argued -
meets the former."

Notley acknowledged that tight timelines are also an issue in the
government's choice.

The federal Liberal government has set July 1, 2018, for meeting its
promise of legalized recreational cannabis and the NDP government
intends to decide on the vehicle for retail sales ahead of presenting
legislation in the fall sitting of the legislature, which starts at
the end of this month.

The premier said the level of potential financial support from Ottawa
also weighs on the decision.

Alberta, which has not had public liquor stores since privatization in
the 1990s, would face the risk of substantial upfront costs in setting
up government-owned cannabis stores, though they could end up bringing
in more public revenue in the long run, says the government.

On the other hand, it acknowledges a private retail system would
likely be more flexible in meeting consumer demand and would provide
more economic opportunities to small business.

The province's three main opposition parties have called for the
private sector to be responsible for cannabis sales and there are
numerous companies poised to enter the retail marijuana market in
Alberta if it is allowed.

Jason Kujath, the president of 51st Parallel Life Sciences - a company
aiming to both produce and sell cannabis in Alberta when the product
is legalized - said there is significant concern that the Notley
government will choose the public model for retail.

"It won't create the access that wipes out the black market," he said
in an interview Friday.

"Second, in a time when Alberta needs to ... foster entrepreneurship
and create jobs and do so in an economic activity environment, it
doesn't make sense to invest (public) money to set up infrastructure

Kujath estimates setting up a system of government owned and operated
cannabis stores would cost around $1.2 billion.

One of the main proponents of a public system, the Alberta Federation
of Labour, has said that government owned stores would create
higher-quality jobs with unionized staff and would be safer for
employees and the public.

The executive of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees is
considering whether to allow an emergency resolution on cannabis sales
to be debated at its annual convention in Edmonton next week, an AUPE
spokesman confirmed Friday.
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