Liquor stores aim to sell marijuana

Private, government stores 'best suited' to become weed dealers, say union, store owners

Liquor stores – both private- and government-run outlets – should be authorized to sell recreational marijuana when the federal government delivers on its election promise to bring in a new regulated system.

That’s the pitch coming from the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, which represents government store workers, and the B.C. Private Liquor Store Association.

The two groups, normally competitors, joined forces Wednesday to argue their stores are well qualified to responsibly handle legalized marijuana, alongside beer, wine and spirits.

“We haven’t been aligned in the past  but we are aligned on this issue,” said Damian Kettlewell of the private stores association.

“We’re suggesting that we have the experience and the knowledge and, eventually, the product training to sell this product in liquor stores.”

He emphasized the aim is to serve as the retailers for recreational pot only, and not compete with existing medical marijuana providers.

Liquor stores are already required to check ID to ensure patrons are over 19 to prevent alcohol purchases by youth, said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith.

“Liquor stores provide the most strictly controlled system for accessing a controlled substance, and are best suited for the retailing of non-medical marijuana,” she said.

“We have an effective warehousing, retail and distribution system in place. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far set no timeline to legalize and regulate non-medical marijuana.

The City of Vancouver has been developing its own licensing system to authorize a limited number of marijuana storefronts and some other municipalities have considered a similar approach.

Asked if the new partnership is an attempt to head off yet more pot stores springing up and gaining local government approval, Kettlewell said there’s no need to create a new government bureaucracy to govern pot sales.

“There are some dry communities in B.C. that do not sell liquor,” Kettlewell said. “If there’s a municipality out there that does not want the sale of non-medical marijuana in their community, we’d fully respect that.”

He noted provincial rules currently require a minimum one-kilometre separation between private liquor stores and he’d expect municipalities that permit recreational pot would in most cases apply zoning rules that could further restrict locations, potentially with minimum buffers from schools and parks.

Don Briere, owner of the 19-store Weeds Glass and Gifts chain of marijuana storefronts, said he’s not worried about liquor outlets wresting away the burgeoning business.

“We are responsible,” he said. “We have many, many years of experience. They have none. If they want to jump on the bandwagon, you know what? It’s free enterprise. They can get in line behind the people who already have 20, 30 years in the industry.”

He argued retail sales of pot and booze should not happen in the same outlet.

“Alcohol and cannabis do not mix,” Briere said. “People get whacked out enough as it is. You get a drunk person buying cannabis and they smoke that – it’s like mixing all your prescription pills and drinking.”

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