Union and retailers urge marijuana sales in liquor stores

British Columbians could be able to buy B.C. bud with their Budweiser if private liquor stores and a major union get their way.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union has partnered with the B.C. Private Liquor Store Association to push for the sale of recreational marijuana in public and private liquor stores — if and when the federal government legalizes the drug.

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It should be sold in a socially responsible way, “in an age-controlled environment with a proven track record of ID checks, and that’s what we currently have within our liquor stores,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said Wednesday.

“The infrastructure exists and to do something parallel for the sale of non-medical marijuana would create another level of bureaucracy, would take a lot of time, energy and money.”

Damian Kettlewell of the Private Liquor Store Association said the Liquor Distribution Branch already has a warehousing system.

“We think that we could get quickest to market, and the goal for the alliance is to have adult-use, non-medical marijuana available in B.C. liquor stores by Christmas 2016,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for things to come together, but we wanted to put a goal out there.”

Kettlewell said there are almost 200 government liquor stores and nearly 700 private liquor stores in B.C.

“So we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and we suggest it makes sense to distribute through the current infrastructure.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the federal election campaign to “legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana” in order to keep the drug away from children and the profits away from criminals.

Trudeau said a Liberal government would remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, while creating stronger laws to punish those who sell to minors or drive under the influence.

In a mandate letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau instructed her to work with the health and public safety ministers to “create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.”

Neither the BCGEU nor private liquor stores offered projections of the money to be made from the legalized sale of marijuana.

Smith said the next step is to open talks with the provincial government and “be in a strong position when federal laws are changed.”

The B.C. government has pledged to co-operate with federal efforts to legalize marijuana.

“It’s a Criminal Code provision,” Premier Christy Clark said in October. “The Criminal Code is a federal responsibility, so if and when they make changes, we’ll work with them to make sure the changes can be effective in B.C.”

Dana Larsen of Sensible B.C., a marijuana legalization group, said he generally supports the proposal by the union and private liquor stores.

“I would support it less if they were saying it should only be available there and nowhere else,” he said. “But I think having that being one of the different options would be very positive.”

Larsen said a key benefit of using liquor stores is that they already exist across the province.

“So it would provide a quick rollout,” he said.

“If they have to do it only in separate locations, it would mean many cities, I think, would try to fight this by putting in bylaws to not allow it to happen in their town. And it would be a very slow process in terms of renting and staffing and finding thousands of new places across the province to sell it.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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