B.C. unions call sale of pot in liquor stores "socially responsible", despite no supporting evidence

Despite task force recommendations against the idea, the BCGEU and Able BC want legal pot to be sold in liquor stores

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      Earlier this week as delegates from across the province gathered at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, two B.C. unions quietly announced a campaign that claimed to offer British Columbians a "responsible" option for marijuana retail.

      The B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union (BCGEU) and the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (Able BC) teamed up in 2015 to create the Responsible Marijuana Retail Alliance of B.C. and are imploring residents to support their cause by adding their signatures to a document that will call on the province to sell recreational pot at liquor stores.

      "Public and private liquor stores in British Columbia have the strongest track record of checking identification, are an age-controlled environment where children are prohibited and contribute substantial tax revenue to our provincial government," reads the alliance's website.

      "When marijuana is legalized it needs to be done in the most socially responsible way possible."

      Although socially responsible policies need to be part of whatever framework politicians decide on, many are of the mind that these policies also need to be evidence-based—and, frankly, there is no evidence to support the idea that cannabis and alcohol should be sold under the same roof.

      In fact, the alliance's suggestion goes directly against federal task force recommendations, which state that co-locating alcohol and cannabis could lead to increased consumption and higher levels of intoxication.

      "The fact is, no other jurisdiction co-locates cannabis with alcohol," provincial health officer Perry Kendall told the Straight earlier today, referring to states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.

      Kendall was a member of the federal task force and said that the idea of selling recreational cannabis in liquor stores was one its members discussed thoroughly.

      "In the end, the reccommendation of the task force was, 'Don't do co-location'. By all means, use the liquor board to inspect, manage, distribute the product, even warehouse it—but not to co-locate," he said.

      With anywhere from 40 to 50 million transactions in public and private liquor stores in the province on an annual basis, Kendall said, adding cannabis into the mix would likely create more harm than good. 

      Selling cannabis in liquor stores might create unintentional users, while others might believe that since the two substances are sold in conjunction they can be consumed together—something Kendall called "undesirable", especially given the added risk for impaired driving.

      "What we're trying to do with cannabis is make it available for adults who want to use it," he said.

      Jamie Shaw, government-relations director at dispensary chain MMJ Canada, told the Straight that though it's nice to see unions interested in getting involved in the market and some political interest in having both public and private cannabis retailers, any involvement by the BCGEU or Able BC would be best limited to administrative oversight.

      "The question becomes, is it in the liquor stores or under those unions? But when you start talking about liquor stores, particularly in rural communites where there might already be problems with alcohol, it's really not a good idea," she said.

      Such a framework, she said, would create problems for non-drinkers and recovering alcoholics who use cannabis. She echoed Kendall's concerns about co-use, especially for indviduals who might be inexperienced with either substance.

      In Shaw's eyes, the biggest problem with the alliance's proposed retail model is that it doesn't address the underlying issue of B.C.'s underground economy and existing cannabis industry.

      Even if dispensaries are licensed for retail and permitted to sell legal cannabis from Canada's licensed producers, she said, "it wouldn't change anything".