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Atlantic premiers ponder common pot price, reach new tax deal with feds

The Atlantic premiers are looking to set a common price for pot when it becomes legal next July in an effort to thwart the black market and discourage cross-border shopping.

If price is too high, people will continue to use black market, says N.B. premier Brian Gallant

The premiers of the four Atlantic provinces get ready for a news conference after a meeting in Halifax on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Pot purchasers in the Atlantic provinces may find consistent pricing across the region once cannabis is legal next July.

A common price per gram is one of the ideas to come out of the latest meeting of the Atlantic premiers in Halifax Monday. Provincial bureaucrats will now try to hammer out a price all four provinces can support.

"If we have a price point that is too high, then we're unfortunately going to see people continue to go to the black market," warned New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant. "And if we see a price point that is too low, perhaps it's a bit of an incentive for people to use it more than we would want."

The price will include taxes, which the provinces now know they will get 75 per cent of, thanks to a deal reached between the provincial ministers of finance and their federal counterpart Bill Morneau.

Although Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil would not confirm the agreement ahead of a formal announcement in Ottawa, he did comment on what he said were important components of the deal.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation's monopoly on marijuana sales isn't intended to be permanent. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

"It's a two-year deal that would be reviewed in two years as we start finding out what are the unknowns," he told reporters at a news conference to mark the end of the Atlantic premiers' meeting. "At the same time, looking at if there is a markup that a respective province wants to do, it would be outside of that taxation model."

Earlier during that meeting with reporters, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball stated unequivocally his province's opposition to the federal government's initial offer to split tax revenues down the middle.

"On behalf of all premiers across the country, no one is satisfied that that split would be 50-50," he said.

Monopoly not necessarily permanent

Although Nova Scotia is the only province in the region so far to hand over complete control of cannabis sales to its provincially-owned Crown corporation that sells liquor, McNeil said the monopoly isn't meant to be permanent.

"It doesn't mean that it will be that way forever and a day," he said. "But one of the lessons that we've learned in other jurisdictions where they didn't have a level of control on distribution, like Colorado for example, it's now very difficult for the state to actually control the product to make sure that it's being distributed in the appropriate way."

Challenging deadline

Another issue of concern for the premiers was a sufficient and steady supply of cannabis, something they claim is not assured given the July 1 legalization deadline.

Premier Ball said it was going to be a struggle for most provinces to have cannabis available to fill store shelves by the deadline. He urged Ottawa to speed up the licensing review process and said his government was anxious to help wannabe suppliers.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said no province would have been satisfied if the federal-provincial division of tax revenues from cannabis sales was 50-50. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

"We are encouraging as many productions facilities as we can to be operating in Newfoundland and Labrador," he said. "For us it's locally grown, supporting local, our local business community and it could even be smaller, boutique-type production facilities." 

For his part, Prince Edward Island's Wade MacLauchlan was eager to tout legal marijuana as a "major public health offering."

"What people buy, the cannabis that they buy from our four governments, is going to be of reliable quality," he said. "It's not going to be crooked or poison or kill you."