NB Liquor isn't going to be asking the provincial government for the power to sell legal marijuana in its liquor stores, says the corporation's CEO.
But Brian Harriman told a committee of MLAs that the Crown corporation would still like to sell the product, which the federal government plans to legalize.
"Marijuana won't be in the current, existing NB Liquor stores, but one potential model that's out there would be for NBL to operate dispensaries separately from our alcohol stores," he said.
'There is a public health benefit to keeping them separate.' - Brian Harriman, NB Liquor CEO
He said he and other New Brunswick members of a federal-provincial working group agree there is "a public benefit and a public safety benefit to not co-locating alcohol where possible with marijuana."
"Though in some instances people might choose to use those substances together, there is a public health benefit to keeping them separate."
A federal task force made the same recommendation in December. The working group Harriman was part of, which also included public health and public safety officials, worked with the task force.
3 options for government
Harriman said the provincial working group members will present three options to the Gallant government in the coming weeks: NB Liquor running separate dispensaries, the private sector running them, or a mixed public-private model.
Selling marijuana in existing liquor stores won't be a recommendation, he said.
Once the province picks an option, NB Liquor will make a more formal, detailed recommendation.
Harriman said the priority in retailing legal marijuana is protecting public safety, as well as shrinking the profits of organized crime sales by making sure the product is "cost competitive" with the black market.
If the province can bring in revenue on top of that, "then that's nice," he said.
The corporation's early studies on the cost of operating dispensaries suggest it could be "significantly profitable," he added.
He said the argument for NB Liquor running dispensaries is its experience selling a controlled substance. However marijuana sales evolve in the future, using NB Liquor's model could be "a good starting point" as legalization arrives.
Harriman said there's more of an economic opportunity for New Brunswick in medicinal marijuana because of the possibility of investments in research, development and processing.
Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government has identified the medicinal sector as a potential growth sector in its jobs plan.
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But sales for recreational use "won't be as significant" an economic boost, Harriman said.
Asked by Progressive Conservative MLA Ross Wetmore if NB Liquor has any idea how much marijuana it would sell, Harriman said it would be "a little premature to guess."
"We have a directional idea of what we think it might be in terms of size."
But he said it's not easy to predict how long it would take to get a retail operation up and running.
He wouldn't commit to how many stores the corporation might operate. The goal is public safety, he said, so it's not clear whether he'd want to blanket the province with stores.
"Our aspiration isn't to wildly accelerate cannabis sales."