Nfld. & Labrador

Resounding enthusiasm for AG review of cannabis industry

The auditor general's planned review of Newfoundland and Labrador's legal cannabis industry is welcome news to political party leaders and at least one industry player.

Licensed cannabis retailer in Labrador hopes it will lead to improvements

Trevor Tobin and his mother run a licensed legal cannabis store in Labrador West, and he expects the auditor general's review of the overall industry will be helpful. (CBC)

Political party leaders and at least one retailer Thursday welcomed the news that the province's licensed legal cannabis industry will go under the auditor general's microscope.

Auditor general Julia Mullaley said Wednesday her office will conduct a broad strokes review of the industry as a whole, although no time line has been established. 

"I'm pleased that she's seen fit to do that," Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie said Thursday. "We're spending a lot of money on this and it's an important public policy issue, just how we're doing that."

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie asked the auditor general to look into the province's cannabis industry deals back in November. (John Pike/CBC)

Crosbie said people want to know whether there has been discrimination or favouritism in how the government awarded cannabis licences and "substantial public monies, like the $40 million to Canopy Growth." 

With a similar $52-million tax break to another Ontario-based company, Biome Grow, to produce cannabis for retail in the province as well, Crosbie has said the industry is lucrative enough to not require government support. 

The PC leader wrote Mullaley in November to request such a review, as questions swirled over the government's tax break to Ontario-based Canopy Growth for cannabis supply, and the land deal for its production facility in St. John's.

Although the auditor general was clear her investigation is not tied to those suspicions, Crosbie said the issues are still within the context of her review.

'Nothing inappropriate'

Premier Dwight Ball said he's looking forward to the final report as well.

"I'm very confident there'll be nothing inappropriate that will come from this," he said Thursday. 

Premier Dwight Ball says the auditor general's review of the province's cannabis industry will not find that anything inappropriate occurred. (Katie Breen/CBC)

He has maintained that the contracts between the provincial government and those within the cannabis industry are above board. 

"This will really clarify a lot of the misinformation, and this is the reason why I'm very happy today to be able to stand here and say that the AG is coming in to review the program — which is a cannabis production program not related to one company — in Newfoundland and Labrador," Ball said.

Review will answer questions

Like Crosbie, NDP Leader Alison Coffin welcomed the investigation. 

"I'm really pleased by it. I think that this is a good activity and a good exercise in transparency," she said. 

"It's going to answer a lot of questions that we had about the awarding of the tax breaks and about the awarding of the contracts." 

NDP Leader Alison Coffin hopes the review will shine a light on how such government contracts were awarded in the cannabis industry. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Coffin hopes it will result in a comprehensive analysis of how government handles such contracts, and the impacts on local entrepreneurs. 

"Remember, these two companies are from outside the province. That means that a lot of this money is going to go back to where their parent companies are located," she said. 

Trevor Tobin is one of the local independent business owners to be granted a licence to sell legal cannabis, at a shop he co-owns with his mother in Labrador West. 

"There is room for improvement, so it's good that they're going to do that investigation," Tobin said. 

"I think something like that would be necessary to make sure that things are run smoothly, but maybe [also] to see what other bumps are still in the road that could be smoothened out."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Katie Breen

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