Pot dispensary owners agree with Sask. Party on sales, warn against alarmist approach

Privately-owned marijuana dispensaries are in favour in the province - for the current government, for existing retailers, and for many of the 35,000 respondents who participated in the provincial online marijuana survey.

Best Buds owner wants 'oversight, regulation, testing' plus a balanced approach to pot education

An employee of Best Buds Society in Saskatoon measures and packages medical marijuana for a customer. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Privately-owned marijuana dispensaries in Saskatchewan found favour among, the current government, existing retailers, and many of the 35,000 respondents who participated in the province's online marijuana survey.

The owners of Saskatoon medical marijuana dispensary Best Buds were pleased to read the results. Forty-five per cent of respondents expressed a desire for a government-run retailer —  like the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority — to sell marijuana, but that number doesn't tell the whole story.

Thirty-seven per cent of respondents believed small businesses should sell cannabis, and over 62 per cent of respondents said they want to see a mix of retail stores and online sales.

Mike Francis, a partner in the Best Buds enterprise, thinks government has a duty to regulate, not sell.

"Oversight, regulation, testing would be awesome. One of the things that is really important is making sure we have an excellent supply for people that is healthy," he said.

Mike Francis, a partner in the Best Buds enterprise, believes much of the information around marijuana is alarmist, and needs to better reflect the reality of the industry. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
Francis' store is laid-back, with marijuana buds stocked behind the counter, in glass jars so the consumer can see the product — in case they aren't able to smell it when they walk through the door.

Province backing away from selling

It's unlikely you'll find a government-run dispensary in the province anytime soon.

Minister of Justice Don Morgan has noted several times that the government does not want to be in the business of "retailing, warehousing, or distributing," which is fine by Francis.

He wants to sell marijuana to people who medicate with it, but he also wants to dispel any myths that may still exist around the substance.

"Because of the prohibition there's been a huge amount of misinformation about this stuff," said Francis.

"I think it's somewhat ridiculous to assume society's going to fall apart and we're going to have to spend a whole bunch of money."

For that reason, Francis thinks the province should just jump in.

"It's not going to be perfect and the imperfections will have to be worked out but we can't get anywhere unless we actually start."

Government should run stores, says SGEU  

While Best Buds may be glad to see the province stay out of selling marijuana, the president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union says it makes sense for the government to be more involved.

"In this case, it's quite clear the public is saying, 'Let the sale of marijuana in this province be done through a public entity,'" Bob Bymoen said of the 45 per cent of survey respondents who opted in favour of government-run retailers.

The government will be responsible for people's health and social well-being, and will handle the regulatory issues that come up from the sale of recreational marijuana, he said.

That's why it would make sense for the government to be the retailer, he said — so it receives the money from marijuana sales and can use that to cover the extra health and social costs.

He also feels that like staff at liquor stores, government employees at cannabis shops would be well-trained and follow responsible selling practices.

"There's no reason for government employees to sell to minors — there's no profit margin to be concerned with, compared to running your own store."

Bymoen believes that the government's reluctance to be involved in the sale of pot is similar to its decision to close public liquor stores.  

"It's becoming more and more obvious that the government is blinded by their own ideology," he said.

"I think they're just out of touch with the general public and they should go back to the survey that they instituted and take a look at the results again."

After question period Thursday, NDP Leader Nicole Sarauer told the media the issue needs more consultation than a single online survey.