Do Pot and Booze Mix? There’s a Turf War in Canada Over Where to Sell Weed

Recreational weed isn't even legal in Canada yet, but there's already a battle brewing over whether it should be sold in government-run liquor stores.
December 16, 2015, 9:38pm
Photo by Anthony Tuccitto

Even though Justin Trudeau has yet to say exactly when or how he will make marijuana legal for recreational use in Canada, a battle is brewing over whether it should be sold alongside booze.

On Wednesday, Liberal Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne declared that once it's legalized, marijuana ought to be sold through the stores run by the province's liquor control board, the LCBO, that has a monopoly on all hard alcohol and select imported wines.

"It makes sense that the liquor distribution mechanism that we have in place at LCBO is very well-suited to putting in place the social responsibility aspects that would need to be in place," she told reporters at the Ontario legislature.

Wynne, a vocal advocate for Trudeau throughout the federal election, stressed that she does not know when Trudeau will move to legalize marijuana. Other provinces have also said they would like to see legal weed sold through their respective liquor control regimes.

One of Trudeau's major campaign promises was to "legalize, regulate, and restrict" access to marijuana in Canada, saying that the current criminal laws around it are ineffective.

Wynne's views are also in line with the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union who said in November that selling marijuana through the LCBO would be the responsible choice saying that "no one has more experience retailing controlled substances than the workers at the LCBO."

But the group representing many of the hundreds of "grey market" marijuana dispensaries that already exist in Canada has slammed this idea.

"Cannabis and alcohol do not mix well together. Selling both products at the same outlet could promote unintended consequences," said Rielle Capler, an advisor for the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMDC) in a statement released by the group on Wednesday.

Dana Larsen, CAMDS's vice president, added "patients prefer dispensaries over both the black market and current legal options. They like the trust this system." Larsen explained that if the goal legalization is to end the black market for marijuana, then the dispensaries are the best way to ensure that.

Related: Justin Trudeau's Battle for Legal Weed in Canada is Going to Be a Total Mess

Rona Ambrose, the interim leader of the Conservative Party, told CBC News on Wednesday that selling marijuana through the LCBO would not keep it out of the hands of children.

"When we look at our experience with alcohol and access for kids, it's not just that easy to say we're going to 'regulate and restrict,'" said Ambrose. "So we'll be watching that."

In Canada, medical patients with a valid prescription for medical marijuana can buy it. And they are allowed to do so only through one of the 26 companies that have licenses from the federal government to cultivate and produce marijuana.

In spite of that, hundreds of marijuana shops have popped up across the country. There are more than 100 in Vancouver alone, the first city in the country to go about regulating the dispensaries.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne