The head of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries says if recreational marijuana is legalized, it should at least initially be sold in retail stores separate from liquor stores. 

CEO John Stinson recently took a trip to Denver, Colo., in search of a pot-selling model that works. He toured recreational marijuana production and retail facilities and met with state officials.

"I saw a retail model that really impressed me," he said.


Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries CEO John Stinson says a retail space in Colorado is an encouraging model for selling recreational marijuana in Manitoba. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

He saw a store where customers had to go through a controlled area, show their ID and then answer a series of questions for safety reasons, such as whether it was their first time purchasing a marijuana product and whether they regularly used the drug.

The retail space was well-lit, had great displays and knowledgeable staff, Stinson said.

"It didn't feel like you were in a scary place in a shady alley buying some weed," he said.

Stinton said he could maybe see a model like this in Manitoba. 

"I was encouraged that there could be a retail model for recreational marijuana that keeps younger people safe, that allows us to control age access in a very deliberate way," he said. "I think we need to take it very slowly, but I think we could get there."

He's not sure Liquor Marts are the best places to sell marijuana, because liquor customers and marijuana customers are different, he said. 

"There may be some crossover, but liquor is woven into our social fabric in a very different way than I think recreational marijuana is at this point."

Stinton said the smell of marijuana in Colorado retail shops was overwhelming for him — another reason why it might not be a good idea to sell the drug in Liquor Marts.

"I think it would be difficult to have it displayed next to a bottle of vodka, because everyone coming in to buy a bottle of vodka is going to leave the store smelling like marijuana, and perhaps they don't want to smell like marijuana," he said.

He does think Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries initially should be involved with selling marijuana.

"We already sell a controlled substance," he said. "There's strong regulations about that. We have lots of experience."

Stinton is meeting with liquor officials from other jurisdictions in June to come up with advice for provincial governments about how the drug could be legally produced and sold.

In the meantime, Stinton said, he's talking to other countries where recreational marijuana is legal, such as the Netherlands.

The sale of recreational marijuana depends on whether the federal government follows through on its election promise to legalize it.

"The important piece is … we try to get it right rather than rushing forward," he said.