Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries calls on B.C. to reject side-by-side sales of pot and alcohol

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      Editor's note: In December, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced that the B.C. government would implement a cannabis distribution model with both private and public retail locations, but didn't say whether the province would co-locate cannabis and alcohol. The government is expected to make a decision later this month.

      By Jeremy Jacobs, President, Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

      In​ ​just​ ​over​ ​six​ ​months, ​the​ ​federal​ ​Liberals​ ​will​ ​complete​ ​delivery​ ​of​ ​their​ ​election​ ​promise​ ​to legalize​ ​marijuana.​ ​As​ ​of​ ​July​ ​2018,​ ​retail​ ​and​ ​distribution​ ​will​ ​commence​ ​across​ ​the​ ​country under​ ​regulations​ ​developed​ ​by​ ​each​ ​province.

      Last​ ​month,​ ​the​ ​province​ ​of​ ​British​ ​Columbia​ ​announced​ ​the possibility of a​ ​cannabis-with-liquor​ ​retailing​ ​plan​ ​that is​ ​causing​ ​widespread​ ​concern.​ ​It​ ​means​ ​that​ ​the​ ​federal​ ​government's​ ​Cannabis​ ​Task​ ​Force consultation​ ​process​—resulting​ ​in​ ​very​ ​clear​ ​findings​ ​about​ ​cannabis​ ​retailing​—​has​ ​been rejected​ ​by​ ​British​ ​Columbia,​ ​and​ ​for​ ​no​ ​good​ ​reason.

      We​ ​are​ ​urging​ ​the​ ​B.C.​ ​government​ ​to​ ​review​ ​the​ ​original​ ​purposes​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Cannabis​ ​Act​ ​and​ ​the Task​ ​Force​ ​recommendations​ ​and​ ​ensure​ ​that​ ​the​ ​path​ ​they​ ​are​ ​adopting​ ​achieves​ ​those purposes​ ​and​ ​follows​ ​those​ ​recommendations,​ ​because​ ​as​ ​some​ ​critics​ ​will​ ​say,​ ​the​ ​handling​ ​of the​ ​cannabis​ ​file​ ​is​ ​mostly​ ​about​ ​benefiting​ ​a​ ​single,​ ​large​ ​public-sector​ ​union,​ ​while​ ​setting aside​ ​an​ ​overwhelming​ ​mass​ ​of​ ​expertise.

      In​ ​their​ ​report​ Public​ ​Health​ ​Perspectives​ ​on​ ​Cannabis​ ​Policy​ ​and​ ​Regulation,​ ​chief​ ​medical officers​ ​of​ ​health​ ​noted​ ​several​ ​public​ ​health​ ​concerns​ ​with​ ​the​ ​co-location​ ​of​ ​sales.​ ​Of particular​ ​concern​ ​was​ ​that,​ ​given​ ​the​ ​high​ ​rate​ ​of​ ​alcohol​ ​use​ ​by​ ​the​ ​adult​ ​population​ ​(over​ ​80 per​cent​ ​of​ ​Canadians​ ​consume​ ​alcohol)​ ​compared​ ​to​ ​the​ ​relatively​ ​small​ ​usage​ ​rate​ ​of cannabis​ ​(approximately​ ​11​ ​per​cent​ ​of​ ​adults​ ​have​ ​consumed​ ​cannabis​ ​in​ ​the​ ​past​ ​year),​ ​there is​ ​a​ ​significant​ ​risk​ ​of​ ​cannabis​ ​and​ ​cannabis​ ​advertising​ ​being​ ​introduced​ ​to​ ​a​ ​large​ ​number​ ​of Canadians​ ​who​ ​might​ ​not​ ​otherwise​ ​use​ ​cannabis.

      In​ ​B.C.,​ ​they ​observed​ ​that​ ​with​ ​more​ ​than​ ​36​ ​million​ ​individual​ ​annual​ ​customer​ ​visits to​ ​the​ ​199​ ​government​ ​liquor​ ​stores,​ ​the​ ​potential​ ​for​ ​increasing​ ​rates​ ​of​ ​use​ ​and​ ​co-use​ ​run counter​ ​to​ ​the​ ​public​ ​health​ ​objectives​ ​of​ ​harm​ ​reduction​ ​and​ ​prevention.

      In​ ​addition,​ ​co-location​ ​of​ ​sales​ ​might​ ​signify​ ​to​ ​some​ ​that​ ​co-use​ ​of​ ​cannabis​ ​and​ ​alcohol​ ​or tobacco​ ​is​ ​condoned​ ​or​ ​encouraged.​ ​The​ ​task​ ​force​ ​heard​ ​repeatedly​ ​about​ ​significant​ ​risks​ ​of co-use​ ​to​ ​public​ ​health​ ​and​ ​safety,​ ​especially​ ​with​ ​respect​ ​to​ ​driving,​ ​and​ ​that​ ​governments​ ​must do​ ​whatever​ ​they​ ​can​ ​to​ ​prevent​ ​it.​ ​While​ ​there​ ​is​ ​little​ ​research​ ​to​ ​confirm​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​direct correlation​ ​between​ ​co-location​ ​and​ ​co-use,​ ​a​ ​precautionary​ ​approach,​ ​combined​ ​with​ ​the example​ ​of​ ​how​ ​other​ ​governments​ ​have​ ​dealt​ ​with​ ​this​ ​issue,​ ​supports​ ​reducing​ ​possible​ ​risks by​ ​banning​ ​co-location​ ​of​ ​sales​ ​wherever​ ​possible.

      In​ ​context​ ​of​ ​a​ ​safe​ ​and​ ​responsible​ ​supply​ ​chain,​ ​we​ ​should​ ​use​ ​licensing​ ​and​ ​production controls​ ​that​ ​support​ ​a​ ​diverse​ ​and​ ​competitive​ ​market​ ​that​ ​also​ ​help ​small​ ​producers.​ ​There​ ​is no​ ​way​ ​a​ ​co-location​ ​model​ ​with​ ​alcohol​ ​in​ ​government​ ​stores​ ​will​ ​support,​ ​encourage​ ​or​ ​grow the​ ​diverse​ ​competitive​ ​market​ ​that​ ​the​ ​task​ ​force​ ​recommends.​ ​The​ ​pull​ ​of​ ​a​ ​monopoly​ ​will​ ​be overwhelming.​ ​Those​ ​who​ ​can
      ​do​ ​mass,​ ​large-scale​ ​production​ ​in​ ​a​ ​highly​ ​uniform​ ​way​ ​will​ ​dominate​ ​the​ ​market,​ ​crowding​ ​out the​ ​diversity.

      B.C.​ ​has​ ​a​ ​thriving​ ​craft​ ​beer​ ​industry,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​needed​ ​government​ ​support​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​and​ ​compete. There​ ​is​ ​strong​ ​support​ ​for​ ​adopting​ ​this​ ​model​ ​for​ ​craft​ ​cannabis​ ​retailing,​ ​including​ ​on-site consumption​ ​of​ ​the​ ​product.​ ​It’s​ ​very​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​imagine​ ​how​ ​this​ ​approach​ ​would​ ​fit​ ​into co-location,​ ​which​ ​is​ ​based​ ​on​ ​mass​ ​distribution​ ​where​ ​volume​ ​is​ ​always​ ​prioritized​ ​over​ ​choice.

      Government​ ​stores​ ​and​ ​distribution​ ​will​ ​have​ ​a​ ​negative​ ​impact​ ​on​ ​competitive​ ​pricing,​ ​making black​ ​market​ ​sources​ ​more​ ​attractive​ ​and​ ​in​ ​turn​ ​increasing​ ​the​ ​burden​ ​on​ ​law​ ​enforcement. This​ ​undermines​ ​the​ ​government's​ ​original​ ​intent​ ​for​ ​legalization.

      The​ ​task​ ​force​ ​came​ ​to​ ​a​ ​conclusion​ ​that​ ​leaves​ ​little​ ​room​ ​for​ ​interpretation:​ ​“Jurisdictions should​ ​avoid​ ​and​ ​strongly​ ​discourage​ ​the​ ​co-location​ ​of​ ​retail​ ​cannabis​ ​and​ ​alcohol​ ​or​ ​tobacco sales​ ​wherever​ ​possible.”

      We​ ​are​ ​happy​ ​that​ ​Public​ ​Safety​ ​Minister​ ​and​ ​Solicitor​ ​General​ ​Mike​ ​Farnworth​ ​has​ ​left​ ​the​ ​door open​ ​to​ ​a​ ​transition​ ​to​ ​existing​ ​private​ ​cannabis​ ​dispensaries.​ ​So​ ​far,​ ​however,​ ​his​ ​government hasn’t​ ​provided​ ​any​ ​language​ ​specifically​ ​describing​ ​that​ ​transition​ ​of​ ​existing​ ​responsible dispensaries.​ ​Rejecting​ ​co-location,​ ​and​ ​building​ ​on​ ​the​ ​success​ ​of​ ​dispensaries​ ​to​ ​date,​ ​will help​ ​to​ ​ensure​ ​that​ ​the​ ​new​ ​system​ ​protects​ ​public​ ​health​ ​while​ ​ensuring​ ​economic​ ​growth.

      If​ ​the​ ​province​ ​of​ ​B.C.​ ​has​ ​a​ ​reason​ ​to​ ​reject​ ​the​ ​basis​ ​of​ ​this​ ​task​ ​force’s​ ​detailed​ ​work,​ ​they should​ ​say​ ​what​ ​it​ ​is.​ ​At​ ​this​ ​stage,​ ​all​ ​we​ ​have​ ​is​ ​a​ ​policy​ ​direction​ ​that​ ​has​ ​already​ ​led​ ​some observers​ ​to​ ​suspect​ ​that​ ​the​ ​interests​ ​of​ ​a​ ​single​ ​union​ ​representing​ ​government​ ​liquor​ ​store employees​ ​are​ ​being​ ​placed​ ​above​ ​the​ ​public​ ​good.​ ​Minister​ ​Farnworth​ ​has​ ​a​ ​very​ ​strong argument​ ​for​ ​resisting​ ​co-location​ ​and​ ​we​ ​hope​ ​he​ ​is​ ​going​ ​​to​ ​use​ ​it.