Manitoba Lays Out Structure for Marijuana Sales in Province
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Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is a major corporation in Manitoba albeit a Crown Corporation. The government of Manitoba knows that the federal government has set a deadline for legalizing marijuana and they know they can’t drag their feet forever. The Pallister Conservatives are caught in a quandary. They morally don’t want to legalize but can’t remain with a ban if the country won’t prosecute usage. They didn’t want to simply let Liquor and Lotteries take over the whole thing, another moral quandary, because it would against their business principles. Instead, we get this hybrid system where the Crown has the monopoly on distribution and instead ships out to big private stores.

The government doesn’t really want to work with mom and pop businesses. The initial roll out for all this is for big corporations like Loblaw’s, London Drugs, Shopper’s and others to get the first crack at the licenses. Municipalities get to decide if they even want a store in their area. Presuming there are licenses left over then maybe a mom and pop store can apply. However, it is possible that one or a few companies could simply get licenses all over the province and then the government says that it is enough. Only problem is if the companies that gets the bulk of the stores aren’t even based here then profits on sales are funneled out of province.

The minister in charge seems overwhelmed with his portfolio and wasn’t even aware this was a problem. He was dismissive of one store wanting to be able to retail in Brandon saying it doesn’t cover Manitoba. Why would a small business worry about the whole province when it wished to serve its local community?

To put this in perspective, it is like when they video rental business got started. Mom and pop stores abounded. They were in charge of sourcing their own material and setting up their own retail business. The movie industry was regulated via the censor and classification board of Manitoba but business was allowed to buy from who they wanted and sell where they wanted.

Now pot is different in they local communities can say no to a store plus zoning will keep them away from schools and only adults can enter them. However, after that, why does distribution have to be done by the Crown? Can’t the province regulate distribution as well as retailing? Why own any part of it? The system in place now is like if the province was responsible for all the videos coming into the province and distributed them and they only let Blockbuster sell them. What? How is this good for small business?

I sympathize with small business people on this one. They have been at the forefront of moving this along and now big corporation are moving in and saying only they can do this.

The NDP is not much help in this. Their solution is distribution and retail should all be government and union controlled. No business at all, please. Were they in government they’d probably nationalize and unionize production as well.

The Conservative complain even today that federal Liberals are anti-small business. Well, the feds left the pot in their corner and what do they do? They went big corporation and big government on it.

To do this right, the government should simply allow wholesalers and retailers know they will be regulated, taxed and expected to obey provincial and municipal laws on age, zoning, security and separation of a store from food, liquor and cigarette retailing. There should be no restriction on number of licenses. Let the retailers sort it out.

This has been a editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations