Province doing the bare minimum on cannabis legalization

The provincial government is rightly receiving a lot of criticism of its new plan for the sale of cannabis.

On January 30, Mark Furey, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, along with Bret Mitchell, president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC), officially announced the province will sell cannabis at nine NSLC stores, none of which will be located in the counties of Antigonish, Guysborough, Inverness, or Richmond.

When asked why the Strait area was not among the areas to receive a cannabis outlet, Furey noted that the NSLC is transitioning from the bottle-your-wine sites and will use those spaces for cannabis retail, an option with “minimal cost and renovations.”

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While there are gaps in the retail map, Furey said, recreational cannabis is still available to all Nova Scotians though the on-line home delivery model and the four-plant allowance.

As for why the province decided against the private model, Furey said that option involves uncertainty, asking, “why would I build a new store and invest significant money, in this case taxpayers’ money, into a business model that I don’t know will be successful or not?”

Nova Scotia’s NDP said the plan leaves more questions than answers, considering Nova Scotia will have less than half the number of outlets as New Brunswick, and there are no ideas to combat the black market.

The NDP also pointed out that although the federal task force on legalization strongly recommended cannabis not be sold alongside alcohol, the province ignored this suggestion. Considering this approach, NDP Spokesperson for Education and Early Childhood Development, Claudia Chender, asked “how does the government plan to prioritize public health? Where will people be allowed to consume? And what mechanism will be used for on-line sales?”

No set price was announced during the announcement earlier this month and more locations are a possibility in the future, with the government looking at sales and market demand after the first year.

Since it will take a year to even add more outlets, it’s clear the government has missed a golden opportunity to improve the economy and maximize public investment.

Denying outlets to major regions of Nova Scotia – like the Strait, the South Shore and the Annapolis Valley, and allotting only one site for Cape Breton – will cost the province millions in tax revenue. Compared to New Brunswick, which will have more than double the number of outlets of Nova Scotia, an opportunity has been lost.

The minister’s response that on-line ordering and the plant allowance will fill the huge service gap, also holds no water. Nova Scotians who are ill and require cannabis as medicine, people without adequate Internet access, those unwilling or unable to go to NSLC outlets, those without proper transportation, those on fixed incomes, and thousands of others will be denied reasonable access, and they will inevitably turn to the black market.

The fact that the province still has not established a price for cannabis will help the black market, and if they do establish an unfair price, the illegal stream will continue to thrive.

There have been no tangible explanations as to why Nova Scotia disregarded the recommendation to separate the sale of cannabis from alcohol, nor has the province made any preparations to deal with the ramifications on public health and safety.

The most glaring lack of knowledge from the government is demonstrated in the province’s misguided belief that the private system for selling cannabis is uncertain. The experiences of other North American jurisdictions sharply contradict this assertion.

In the first year after cannabis was legalized in Colorado, all types of crime decreased, traffic fatalities dropped, and the state had so much tax revenue, it was able to put $30.5 million of that revenue straight into the pockets of taxpayers. The other net benefit to the economy was in bringing down the unemployment rate and creating 16,000 new jobs.

That is a model for success that can easily be emulated by Nova Scotia.

This model and others have influenced provinces like Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador to embrace the private sector option.

Why is provincial government content with doing the bare minimum and providing Nova Scotians with minimal benefits from the legalization of cannabis?