New Brunswick

MLAs hear business pros and cons of legalized marijuana

A committee of MLAs helping New Brunswick prepare for legal marijuana heard Saint John business concerns Tuesday about employees working while high, as well as some hopes for how the legalization will lead to new jobs.

Irving companies in Saint John seek way to test employees for marijuana use — before the drug becomes legal

Derek Riedle, founder and publisher of marijuana publication Civilized, says marijuana legalization offers an opportunity for New Brunswick. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

A committee of MLAs helping New Brunswick prepare for legal marijuana heard Saint John business concerns Tuesday about employees working while high, as well as some hopes for how the legalization will lead to new jobs.

"There is a real and genuine rush and rising tide in cannabis," Derek Riedle, founder and publisher of Civilized, a marijuana lifestyle magazine based in Saint John.

The select committee on cannabis, made up of Liberal and opposition MLAs, heard both business pros and cons when it stopped in Saint John to gather ideas before the province drafts regulations for recreational marijuana use. 

Good business

Riedle said a number of things make New Brunswick attractive to people wanting to start cannabis-related companies after the drug is legalized, likely by July 2018, according to the federal government.

"The cost of doing business here, as opposed to the cost in other spots" is one attraction, Riedle said.

"We also have a workforce that will embrace the types of jobs and prosperity it will bring us. I think we've got a unique opportunity to be the leaders in Canada here in New Brunswick."

Cannabis is going to be a $130-billion industry. If we're the leaders in cannabis … that ain't bad.- Derek Riedle

Another provincial committee has already recommended a Crown corporation handle the distribution of marijuana in New Brunswick.

Riedle said even if marijuana is primarily sold by a Crown corporation, private businesses will still have a multitude of options in how they cash in on cannabis. 

"I think there's untold opportunity in research, transportation, storage," he said. "This rising tide can float those boats."

Riedle also said there will be fertile ground for research and development companies looking at marijuana products, citing Zenabis in Atholville as a New-Brunswick based company that has already clued into this.

"You've something that is going to outpace, well, coffee — a $54 billion industry," he said. "Cannabis is going to be a $130 billion industry. If we're the leaders in cannabis … that ain't bad."

Workplace safety

While Riedle preached the benefits of cannabis on business, Chris MacDonald of a J.D. Irving Limited brought an established company's concerns to the table.

He said for jobs involving heavy machinery or driving, JDI and other employers, including Ellis Don and CN, are part of a group seeking ways to test their employees for marijuana use.

Chris MacDonald, right, director of government relations for J.D. Irving, Limited, says the company wants to be able to test employees for marijuana use when it's legalized. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

MacDonald said statistics pointed to higher usage of recreational cannabis in Colorado after the state legalized it. He said J.D. Irving is concerned about whether it can monitor workers for intoxication on the job if more employees become marijuana users.

"What is going to happen in the workplace? … How are we going to manage this without the tools we'd like to have before the legalization happens?"

He said the solution would be a standardized test. 

"I think what we need is a proper test, that will equate to a breath alcohol test that can be used in the transportation sector," MacDonald said. "Secondly, I think what we really need is a comprehensive drug and alcohol testing program, regulatory framework, no different than what the United States has had since 1995. We don't have that."

Crown corporations

Also present at the Saint John consultations was Jamie Agnew, president of CUPE Local 963, which represents NB Liquor Employees.

Jamie Agnew, president of CUPE Local 963, which represents NB Liquor employees, says his union should also represent marijuana sales people. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

He said his union is in favour of a model where a Crown corporation, represented by his union, sells marijuana when it is legalized. Gaps in the market, particularly in rural areas, could be filled by private dispensaries.

"That model would ensure any private store would have to buy from NB Liquor and the licence providers," Agnew said. "If we go to a totally private industry, I would be nervous that the black market would get their hands on it."

He said this would require a different set of shops, meaning a bump in available jobs for retail personnel. 

"It would be totally separate stores," he said. "You could come into NB Liquor to buy liquor, and wherever the dispensary is to buy marijuana ... maybe any new builds of liquor stores would contain a separate dispensary."

Agnew said he would be happy if recreational marijuana sales were granted to his union.

"Bring on the weed!"