Pubdate: Sat, 13 Jan 2018
Source: Regina Leader-Post (CN SN)
Copyright: 2018 The Leader-Post Ltd.
Author: Murray Mandryk
Page: A8


The reluctance of the Saskatchewan Party government to come forward
with a fulsome policy on legal cannabis sales speaks to the discomfort
this conservative-minded administration is having with the subject

But it also demonstrates how this party's leadership race - and
perhaps other political considerations - have shut down the business
of governing for some time now.

The kindest grade one can give Monday's government announcement on
legal marijuana sales is "late" and "incomplete."

It avoided answering even the most basic question: At what age will
one be able to purchase marijuana in Saskatchewan, come its
legalization on July 1.

The simple answer would seem to be 19 years, as per the legal alcohol
possession age in this province. But with Sask. Party leadership
front-runner Ken Cheveldayoff vowing that age should be 25 years, one
suspects such critical questions are being postponed until we know who
the premier is.

The announcement did detail plans for 60 retail outlets (all private,
all standalone, separate from existing or future private liquor
stores) in 40 Saskatchewan communities, with Regina to have six
retailers and Saskatoon scheduled to have seven stores.

This approach comes despite the government's own survey showing 45 per
cent of Saskatchewan citizens wanted publicly owned Saskatchewan
Liquor and Gaming Authority (SGLA) to be a retail distributor - a move
that might have fortified the viability of public liquor stores now
duking it out with private competition.

Those suspicious this is at least partly about a conservative
government unwilling to do much of anything to keep public liquor
retailers viable have good reason to be doubtful.

According to SLGA Minister Gene Makowsky, this "de-risks" the
taxpayers from an "ill-defined market right now."

Really, the Sask. Party government can find no evidence of anyone
anywhere in the world making a risky investment in the drug trade -
either of the legal prescription or illegal variety? Wouldn't drugs be
the only business that even government can't screw up?

At a time when government is so desperate to balance its budget that
in the last budget it ditched the provincial bus service and cut
funding for libraries and funerals for the poor, wouldn't now be the
time to take the not-so-dangerous-risk of keeping all the retail pot
revenue it could?

While there will be a lottery system in place to reward private
franchises, expect the usual suspicions of political favouritism to
political friends similar to grumbling after the Sask. Party rewarded
private, stand-alone liquor store franchises. That the Federated Co-op
with a highly successful record of liquor retailing in Alberta didn't
receive more private liquor franchises in Saskatchewan still remains

Keeping retail pot sales the exclusive jurisdiction of government
would have avoided this debate, plus any additional future
controversies about licensing. The need for private retailers to go
through background police checks and significant followup monitoring
once their businesses are set up would have been eliminated. It would
have also eased distribution concerns, which also weren't addressed in
Monday's announcement.

That the announcement awarded franchises to three First Nations - one
of them, Onion Lake First Nation, is a dry reserve - speaks to the
lack of true consultation and thought applied to this issue.

But it also suggests a party that's just generally uncomfortable with
the subject matter.

Again, some of this has been driven by politics and Premier Brad
Wall's need to criticize all things done by Liberal Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau - sometimes for no other reason than to be somewhat
consistent with federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

But the unease with legal marijuana may extend far beyond that, right
to the core of the Sask. Party base.

Consider how it won't even be allowing a private a Saskatchewan
franchise to sell both booze and weed.

The Sask. Party government's reluctance to see pot sold in anyone's
liquor store establishment seems rather telling.

This has not been an easy subject for the Sask. Party.
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