NDP chooses government over private retailers for selling cannabis

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The NDP government is weighing whether to set up government-run stores to sell cannabis in Alberta or leave the market to private retailers when recreational cannabis is legalized next year.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley unveiled the government’s proposed framework for legal weed Wednesday, with the province setting 18 as the legal age for consumption — matching the age for alcohol and tobacco use in Alberta.

The province will also mandate that legal weed be sold only in stand-alone stores, with no sales of alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals in the same facility.

But the government says it’s seeking further input on whether to set up government-owned and operated stores to sell legal cannabis, as is being planned in Ontario, or license and regulate private retailers.

Unlike Ontario, Alberta has had no system of government-owned liquor stores since privatization in the 1990s.

However, under the government’s plan, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will serve as a central wholesaler for cannabis as it does for alcohol, ensuring uniform distribution costs and that only legally produced and federally regulated cannabis products are sold in the province.

Angela Pitt, justice critic with the United Conservative Party, said that’s a proper role for the commission, but she questioned why the NDP would consider creating government-owned stores.

The Alberta Party and Liberals are also opposed to government-owned cannabis stores, though all three opposition parties are prepared to accept 18 as the legal age for consumption.

The federal Liberal government has set July 1, 2018, as the date for legalization of legal cannabis but has left many of the details to the provinces. 

Alberta will not change the federal government’s public possession limit of 30 grams — the equivalent of about 40 joints — for adults. It will also maintain the federal limit of four plants per household.

The province will have a zero-tolerance policy for youth possession, with tickets for those under 18 in possession of under five grams of cannabis and potential criminal charges for possession over that amount.