P.E.I. business leaders weigh in on marijuana legalization

As P.E.I. considers the rules it will have to put in place around marijuana legalization, Island business leaders and owners are weighing in, hoping to have their voices heard.

Islanders can do an online survey on where and how they think marijuana should be sold

Phoenix business owner Ed Polish scans the cannabis on display at Green Valley Wellness, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, in Talent, Ore. Oregon marijuana shops began selling marijuana Thursday for the first time to recreational users, marking a big day for the budding pot industry. (Bob Pennell/The Medford Mail Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (Bob Pennell/The Medford Mail Tribune via AP)

As P.E.I. considers the rules it will have to put in place around marijuana legalization, Island business leaders and owners are weighing in, hoping to have their voices heard.

The federal government has said it will legalize pot by July 2018, and the provinces will have to come up with their own rules for sales by then.

In order to gauge public opinion on the sale of marijuana, the province has put out an online survey asking for the public's input on several issues.

One of the specific questions being asked is whether marijuana should be sold by private business or publicly through government.

Erin McGrath-Gaudet of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said government has to be careful not to overtax and overregulate the product. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Erin McGrath-Gaudet of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said based on the evidence available, both private business and government-run operations are capable of handling the sale of regulated products such as tobacco, alcohol or cannabis.

She said the federation is not opposed to either model of sale, but warned government has to be cautious not to overtax or overregulate the product, because it could encourage the underground market.

'Significant cost for government'

"From our perspective, you know, one of the big concerns we would have is the cost of the system," McGrath-Gaudet said. 

"Certainly the experts in the health field have said it shouldn't be sold alongside alcohol, so the province would be looking at setting up completely separate, stand alone, publicly constructed or leased stores with public staff. Certainly that may be a very safe option. It's not to criticize that option from a safety perspective, but certainly that would be a significant cost for government."

Edwin Jewell, president of Canada's Island Garden, said he'll be closely watching what government decides. The P.E.I. business has a Health Canada licence to grow and sell medical marijuana.

The province is looking for public input on whether marijuana should be sold by private business or by government, similar to the way alcohol is sold. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"I suspect we will see it in retail government stores, so down the road I'd say that licensed producers like ourselves will be growing for the wholesale market, but hopefully we'll have an opportunity to retail as we can now through the mail order, which I expect will continue," he said.

"I think the medical patients that we have with us now, registered with us now as clients, we'd have the opportunity to continue to serve those people, hopefully."

Jewell agrees with McGrath-Gaudet that government needs to be careful not to overprice or overregulate.

'Potential for entrepreneurs'

Penny Walsh McGuire, executive director of the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce, said a private sale model could potentially work.

Island business leaders are hoping to have their voices heard as the province considers its rules around marijuana legalization. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"With the government's decision to legalize recreational cannabis, there is significant potential for entrepreneurs to play a key role. We'll continue to gather feedback from our membership and consider the regulatory environment that would need to be in place for the private sector to be involved," she said.

"We think it's important that government choose the critical regulatory priorities, such as preventing sales to minors, ensuring proper product safety information and rules, and prohibitions at work or while driving. From a business perspective, it will be very important to get right the workplace implications of legalized recreational marijuana."