New Brunswick looking at privatizing cannabis sales

    (AQ Archives)

    The provincial government is looking at privatizing cannabis sales in New Brunswick.

    On Nov. 14, Finance Minister Ernie Steeves and the Government of New Brunswick issued a press release to announce they’re searching for a single private operator to take over the legal cannabis market in New Brunswick. They released a request for proposals (RFP) to try and find that operator.

    Steeves brought up the possibility of privatization shortly after Cannabis NB reported $11.7 million in losses in 2018 on April 30 2019.

    He said in a press release that he wants to maximize the benefits for taxpayers and the province and that privatization is the best way to do so.

    “That is why our government has identified the single private operator model as the best approach to balance both the public protection and financial interest objectives for the province.”

    Proposals will be accepted until Jan. 10 and the government’s goal is to find someone who has experience in the sale of recreational cannabis with a plan to combat the illegal market.

    CEO of Alcool NB Liquor and Cannabis NB Patrick Parent said until changes to the retail market are made, Cannabis NB will continue competing with the illegal market and do their best to educate customers about cannabis use.

    “We will continue to make consumers aware of our offers, albeit within the very restrictive regulatory framework around advertising. We will continue to offer an exceptional educational in-store and online experience fully respecting the federal and provincial laws governing the cannabis industry.”

    One of these educational experiences is a “Dig Deeper” section on the Cannabis NB website that provides information such as the side effects of Cannabis and how to find out which strain is right for individuals.

    Mixed reviews

    Leader of the People’s Alliance Kris Austin said he and his party are pleased the government is interested in putting an end to the Crown corporation.

    “We warned the government that continuing to allow Cannabis NB to operate would be financially detrimental to the province,” said Austin.

    Still, Green Party leader and critic for ANBL and Cannabis NB David Coon said losing the education potential the public sector has worries him.

    “That’s one example of the kind of thing with government running the retail side of it that they can do, where once it’s in the private sector’s hands, I don’t think we’re going to see that at all,” said Coon.

    Coon said that even if Cannabis NB started as a private cooperation, it would have likely been a few years before they turned a profit.

    “It takes some time for a new initiative like this, a new business like this to get its feet under it. It’s only been up and running for a year.”

    MLA for Dieppe and the official critic of finance Roger Melanson said the Liberals are open to changing how cannabis sales in New Brunswick work, but he has questions about what that is going to look like.

    “Apparently some companies have been engaged already with the government. Who are they and do they have insider information that gives them an advantage on the RFP?”

    He said he wonders if the government will have any revenue in the cannabis sector if privatization goes forward.

    “The minister hasn’t really said much about the specifics on how this is going to work. The devil will be in the details when the RFP is released.”