Alberta liquor stores contemplating pot sales

xx-17-edm-liquorstorecsteeves.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoEven before Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci jokingly suggested retail pot sales go to liquor stores last week — which he quickly retracted — the Alberta Liquor Store Association says it was asking its members about the idea.

“We started the conversation back last year when the new federal government had a policy of legal marijuana,” said Ivonne Martinez, president of the association.

No clear sales model has emerged following legal marijuana in the U.S.: Washington’s market is supervised by the Washington Liquor Control Board, while Colorado’s is monitored by the Marijuana Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue. Colorado allows for retail distribution alongside medicinal marijuana, while Washington’s laws prevent that integration.

But here in Alberta, the possibility of a legality change is seeing many prepare.

Martinez said ALSA members are being asked about the idea through a formal survey and direct conversations with store owners, and results should be known at the end of April.

She added her hope is the association will develop a preliminary policy position on retail pot sales in its member stores that reflects member needs, and then to take that position to government.

“When the time comes, we hope to sit at the table with the government as they develop the Alberta model,” Martinez said. “If this is a good fit and if it is how we might be able to assist in the process in selling this product in a responsible way.”

Ceci said last week there is no government policy yet in place. “When the feds make their decision then the Alberta government would make their decisions,” he said.

Martinez added early feedback from ALSA members is divided: Some believe the liquor store infrastructure is sufficient as stores already ID customers and monitor the distribution of a controlled substance.

But others have voiced concern around increased risks and would like to hear from police and health associations, Martinez said.

While Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne suggested Ontario’s provincially-controlled liquor store structure could work for retail marijuana, Martinez said Alberta’s private liquor store market may work differently.

Meanwhile, major Canadian medicinal marijuana company, Tweed, has advocated that medicinal producers be the first into the retail market.

The question of sales will likely remain open as Canada creates its own regulation.

Bill Blair, Toronto’s former top cop, is now one of two parliamentary secretaries investigating the potential path to regulation, which involves consulting Health Canada, Public Safety and the provinces.