British Columbia

B.C. liquor stores press for right to sell legal pot

One of B.C.'s largest unions has joined forces with private liquor store owners to press for permission to sell non-medical marijuana in provincial liquor stores once that becomes legal.

Longtime pot retailers say they shouldn't be pushed out of the business

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and the B.C. Private Liquor Store Association want permission to sell non-medical marijuana through the existing liquor distribution and retail system. (Associated Press)

One of British Columbia's largest unions has joined forces with private liquor stores to press for permission to sell non-medical marijuana in provincial liquor stores once that becomes legal.

The province's liquor store network has a solid track record for selling alcohol in a socially responsible manner, especially when it comes to checking that buyers are of age, the two groups told a news conference Wednesday.

That network would dovetail well with the sale of non-medical marijuana, they said.

"We believe this is an incredible opportunity for British Columbia," said Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union.

"We have an excellent track record for distributing and retailing alcohol."

900 private and public stores

Smith was joined by Damian Kettlewell, representing B.C.'s private liquor stores. There are nearly 900 private and public liquor stores in B.C.

During the federal election campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana, but would not commit to a timeline for legalization. The BCGEU and private liquor store partnership said the network could be ready to sell marijuana by Christmas 2016.

Smith argued that permitting the sale of marijuana in liquor stores would be less costly and bureaucratic than setting up a separate system.

The tax revenue from marijuana sales could fund education and addiction programs, she said.

Longtime pot sellers cry foul

Wednesday's announcement drew criticism from longtime B.C. pot seller Don Briere, owner of Weeds, Glass & Gifts Ltd., a chain of stores that sells cannabis products.

"If these guys want to push us out, that's totally wrong," Briere said, arguing that marijuana advocates and retailers have earned the right to step into the cannabis industry, once …. "People have put 20, 30 years in this industry and they've worked hard and they've suffered hard."

A Colorado-based policy analyst, Andrew Livingston, agreed that Canadian legislators will have to balance demands from longtime cannabis players and newer retailers — such as liquor store owners — who want in on the business.

At first glance, Livingston noted, it appears B.C. liquor stores have a solid infrastructure to sell cannabis products.

"You already have these brick and mortar establishments and they have already tight regulations and systems of distribution," Livingston said in an interview from Denver.

"But you also don't want to necessarily sideline those medical marijuana dispensaries that have been operating legitimately within their communities, in some cases, for decades," he said, even though most of them are not necessarily legal.