B.C. health minister throws weight behind liquor stores' bid to sell recreational marijuana

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      B.C.’s health minister has come out against Vancouver’s marijuana dispensaries.

      The move adds momentum to a push for the sale of recreational cannabis to occur through liquor stores instead of the sort of specialized storefronts that have proliferated on Canada's West Coast.

      The Globe and Mail reports B.C. health minister Terry Lake will take that message to a January 20 meeting with federal and provincial counterparts where one item on the agenda is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis.

      “Mr. Lake said he would rather recreational pot be sold at these government or private stores in place of dispensaries, because they have a proven track record of enforcing age limits,” wrote the Globe’s Mike Hager.

      “However, he said there are real public-health concerns about placing bud next to beer,” the Globe’s report continues. “That means, at the very least, such stores should be strictly licensed and inspected and cannabis should be sold at ‘a separate pharmacy-type counter’.”

      Lake’s remarks add to a slow-but-steadily growing number of high-level voices who oppose the dispensary model. In December, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, for example, said she thought it “makes a lot of sense” for liquor stores and their existing distribution networks to supply the country with recreational cannabis. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has said the same.

      For years, B.C. premier Christy Clark has avoided the issue of marijuana. Last month, she did however say B.C.  is “ready to endorse and allow” a federal plan for legalization.

      “Well, I mean we’re happy to work with whatever the federal government decides on that,” Clark said. “You know they were really clear—and it was a big election issue in B.C.—about their position on this. And so we’re prepared to move forward on it, and I know lots of ideas about how we might regulate it.”

      On December 2, B.C.’s private liquor-store owners announced they would be lobbying to see marijuana sold through their shops.

      The Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD) responded with a statement that argued liquor stores lack the expertise required to sell marijuana in the safest manner possible.

      “It is not surprising that provincial and private liquor stores are interested in this newly emerging legal cannabis market, as no doubt are the pharmacies, we have seen this in other jurisdictions,” said CAMCD vice president Dana Larsen quoted there. “These retailers would have to make major changes to accommodate cannabis sales.”

      Larsen and CAMCD maintain the dispensaries have proven themselves a safe model for distribution.

      Lake’s comments come as Trudeau begins a consultation phase with the provinces. On January 8, the prime minister appointed Toronto’s former police chief, Bill Blair, to head that effort.

      Blair, the Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest and a parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, has so-far provided few hints about what a sanctioned market for marijuana could look like. He has however said there will be an emphasis on law and order.

      “Our intent is to legalize, regulate and restrict,” he told the Globe and Mail on January 12. “There needs to be reasonable restrictions on making sure that we keep it away from kids, because I think that is very much in the public interest. We also have to ensure that the social and the health harms are properly managed and mitigated, and that can be done through regulation.”