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N.L. government rolls out its pot plans, Part 1

TEL-A01-24112017-GovtCannabis-AF.jpg
CP photo
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has unveiled the first parts of its plans for legalized cannabis.
TEL-A01-24112017-GovtCannabis-AF.jpg CP photo The Newfoundland and Labrador government has unveiled the first parts of its plans for legalized cannabis.

Many more details to come; province still negotiating with feds on taxation: Osborne

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador government, youll be able to smoke it in the shed, smoke it in the bed, but beyond your residence, there are plenty of other rules, regulations and enforcement measures coming for legalized marijuana.

The province took its first real steps beyond consultations and internal work on Thursday, publicly announcing policy points and planned changes to legislation, to prepare for the July 2018 legalization of cannabis.

All government representatives said theres still work to be done, including figuring out how much it will cost so as not to process legal retailers out of the market.

Finance Minister Tom Osborne said the province is appealing to the feds for a change in the proposed federal excise tax, leaving pricing and anticipated revenue ultimately in question, even as policy decisions are made.

We want to be ready with a provincial retail system informed by our policy priorities. We need to be ready with public education for our children, youth, employers, drivers and parents, said Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, who also took the press conference as a chance to note health and safety risks associated with cannabis use, particularly in youth.

The province has decided to match its legal marijuana age to the age of permitted alcohol use. So at 19 years old, individuals will have the right to purchase, possess and smoke or vape cannabis, but not before.

Anyone under 19 years of age caught with otherwise legal cannabis can expect to be dealt with along the same lines as what you see now with alcohol.

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Liquor corporation sales

The NLC will get all of the cannabis needed in the province from Health Canada-certified suppliers. The corporation will be an online retailer, but also will be the distributor and legal provider of cannabis to any licensed retailers in the province.

The NLC will license cannabis retailers and you will not be able to legally sell marijuana without the NLC’s blessing.

The corporation also has the right to become the storefront retailer in smaller communities, if there is demand but no private interest. Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister Chris Mitchelmore said private businesses are preferred.

The NLC's online store will be able to supply rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

As for how you might become a legal retailer, an early task for the corporation will be to develop a public request for proposals, to hear from anyone interested. The provincial government has said it does not want to see locations where both alcohol and marijuana are sold, but further details on specific store requirements are not yet available.The province is currently in discussions with established Health Canada-approved suppliers to meet the corporations needs to start.

 

The new market

All of it sounds OK so far to Vaughan Hammond, with the Canadian Federation for Independent Business (CFIB), who was on hand for the announcement at the Confederation Building in St. Johns.

Its good that private retailers are going to be allowed to sell it. The RFP process is something were going to have to look at, he said.

The most important thing at this point, he added, is the government and NLC are crystal clear in what they require and in their decisions — naming retailers and under what conditions.

For example, if someone applies with a business plan and is denied a license, it needs to be understood why, he said. If its not clear why, then youre going to create uncertainty, he said.

Early political response

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said she was hoping the province would commit to a greater role for the NLC, given their existing stores, staff and staff experience with a highly regulated product.

Asked if relying more on the NLC would have been a risk for government, she disagreed with the idea.

I dont think that thats a big risk. Its not government, number one, its the corporation, she said, and the corporation is already showing its a very profitable corporation with all kinds of income. They wont necessarily have to set up new places, in terms of building, they wont have to do that and in the onset they are going to be in charge of that anyway, so why not continue that down the road?

She said keeping sales under the NLC would make it more likely for more revenue to go back into government programs and services than the proposed system.

After using much of Question Period to ask for more information on cannabis plans, Progressive Conservative leader Paul Davis told reporters hes not satisfied with where things sit.

I think based on the answers today they dont have a comprehensive plan, he said.

It is difficult to evaluate the approach put forward, he said, when all of the facts arent available. As a specific example, he pointed to the request for proposals coming from the liquor corporation. He suggested responding means having a business plan and making decisions on whether or not to enter the new market. That requires an understanding of the regulatory parameters, potential costs, competitors and margins.

Davis said he is similarly disappointed so much of the detail — everything from response to questions on home growing, to occupational health and safety considerations — has been promised by the spring, when he said government staff and House members might otherwise be focused on the upcoming budget.

For his part, Independent MHA Paul Lane said he was not sold on legalization overall, but that ship has sailed. At this point, he said, he has no immediate concern with what has been introduced, but also pointed to the many details still to come.

 

ashley.fitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

 

Legalization of marijuana in N.L.

• Legal age: 19

• Use restricted to private residences (expected to include shed, deck, etc.)

• To be available through an NLC online store

• Storefront retailers to be licensed by NLC (Initial call expected before year end)

• Federal excise tax to be applied ($1 per gram or 10 per cent of retail price, split 50-50 with province), unless new deal reached in interim

• Decisions announced are restricted to smoking and vaping, do not address edibles (expected to be addressed by federal government in 2019)

• More to come from provincial government on home growing, enforcement, occupational health and safety, powers of municipalities

(NOTE: Required legislation has yet to be passed. Changes to the Liquor Corporation Act are now introduced, but further legislation expected in early 2018)

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