Manitoba wants private stores to sell its recreational cannabis

It’s the first province to champion private companies in legal weed sales as Ontario favours a government monopoly

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government announced on Tuesday it plans to allow private storefronts to sell recreational cannabis by the time it becomes legal next year.

Premier Brian Pallister boasted his province’s “hybrid model” for legal pot that gives the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation control over obtaining the product that will be sold in private stores.

The model represents the “best of both worlds,” Pallister told reporters at a press conference. It includes roles for the private and public sectors “to do what they each do best” and allows for healthy competition in the market. The plan stands in stark contrast to Ontario’s pot plan, which gives exclusive distribution and retail authority to the province’s liquor control board (LCBO).

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Pallister told the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday he was not impressed by Ontario’s plan, which excludes private sector retailers and independent growers. “The private sector is probably where you want to go if you want to take your family out to dinner, not a government cafeteria,” he said.

Many details still haven’t been announced such as the minimum age for consuming cannabis and the taxes that will be levied on the drug. But Manitoba will start taking requests for proposals from “qualified applicants” who want to open their own recreational cannabis shops, as long as they don’t plan to also sell alcohol on site. The supply itself will come from among Health Canada’s 69 licensed producers.

Pallister said the number of stores allowed to open will depend on the number and quality of applicants.

“This approach is designed to meet our objectives of eliminating the black market, keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth and creating new opportunities in the marketplace,” Manitoba’s Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen said in a press release. “The private sector’s role in encouraging competitive pricing supports these goals.”

Last month, Alberta unveiled its proposal to regulate the legal pot market which will allow storefront sales. However it’s unclear if they will be operated by public or private companies.

New Brunswick is pushing for its provincial liquor board to oversee sales in the maritime province, which also signed an exclusive supply deal with two licensed cannabis producers.