New Brunswick

Cannabis consultations fuel debate over who gets to sell recreational pot

The select committee on cannabis stopped in St. Stephen to hear the public's thoughts on how and where to distribute marijuana when it's legalized next July.

Charlotte County residents weighed in on pot legislation Monday

Charlotte County resident Stephen Fenity wants independent dispensaries to have the right to sell recreational marijuana in 2018. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

A community centre in St. Stephen heard conflicting opinions echo through its halls Monday morning on who should be allowed to sell recreational cannabis.

The select committee on cannabis is touring New Brunswick to hear the public's thoughts on how and where to distribute marijuana when it's legalized next July — whether it be privatized, sold through a Crown corporation, or through pharmacies.

"I have over 600 people alone in Charlotte County who are prescribed users," said Stephen Fenity, a Charlotte County resident who is opening a dispensary. "Every single one that I've spoken to on a personal level that are friends of mine don't want to purchase anywhere else but from an independent dispensary."

The committee, composed of eight MLAs, heard conflicting opinions on where rural New Brunswick should be able to get their recreational pot next year. But hearing each side is part of the objective, according to the committee's leader.

"What matters is listening to New Brunswickers, making sure their point of view is heard and it will be considered when it comes to legislation this fall," said Benoit Bourque, head of the committee and Liberal MLA for Kent South.

New Brunswick's select committee on cannabis consists of eight MLAs from the province. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

Going independent

​A report issued in June 2017 by a provincial working group recommended a Crown corporation have the rights to sell and distribute marijuana in New Brunswick for recreational purposes.

We already feel that ANBL can provide these services to New Brunswickers,- Denis Brun

Fenity, who said he was opening up his independent marijuana dispensary later Monday, disagreed with the recommendation.

"When you ask what kind of training does someone have in a liquor store in my experience it boils down to how to use a cash register," he said. "I won't hire a person on my staff who doesn't have a prescription. I won't hire a person who hasn't done the budtender's course so they know the difference in the strains."

Denis Brun, coordinator for the union that represents NB Liquor employees, disagreed. He said NB Liquor has the infrastructure to be the Crown corporation that handles the selling of recreational pot.

"We already feel that ANBL can provide these services to New Brunswickers," Brun said. 

"It is the best way to ensure that the public health and safety of all the citizens of New Brunswick is prioritized and protected."

Denis Brun, provincial coordinator for the union that represents NB Liquor employees. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

Brun said allowing private companies to sell marijuana runs the risk of allowing profit to come before safety. Pharmacies that already carry medical marijuana also present issues when it comes to recreational sale, he said.

"If it were sold in pharmacy, we run the risk of conflating the medical and recreational consumption of cannabis," he said.

Hearing out New Brunswickers

Bourque declined comment on where he falls on the issue, saying the consultations are a time for the public to offer options and ideas, not politicians.

"My job is to really look at all of them and once we take them all, it'll give us a better idea of what's going on in the heads of New Brunswickers," he said.

Benoit Bourque, MLA for Kent County is heading up the select committee on cannabis. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

Bourque said while opinions like Fenity's clashed with provincial recommendations, they are welcome at the hearings, and may still be influential when New Brunswick decides on its policy.

"I think what he brings out is very pertinent in the sense that he's obviously very knowledgeable on medical marijuana," he said. "But of course they are his opinions, and we'll hear varying opinions in the coming days."

St. Stephen was the first in a full week of consultations for the committee, which will include Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton.