ANNAPOLIS VALLEY, NS - When marijuana becomes legal across Canada July 1, Annapolis Valley residents won’t be buying any of the recreational drug from their local NSLC. In fact, they’ll have to drive all the way to Yarmouth or Lower Sackville.
If you’re on the South Shore or Eastern Shore of the province, you’re also out of luck. If you’re in Liverpool, you’ll have to drive to metro or Yarmouth.
Justice Minister Mark Furey introduced a cautious rollout of the sales of cannabis in Nova Scotia Jan. 30 with only nine locations – four of them in HRM – selling the product. Amherst, Truro, New Glasgow, Sydney River, and Yarmouth are the only locations outside of the metro area.
He said the factors included in making the selections were based on NSLC space available to be converted, the concerns around the transition from an illicit drug to a recreational drug, and the as-yet untried business case for actual sales of legal pot.
And in a news conference, he repeatedly pushed the online purchase option that will be available, but there are no details yet on how that will work. Nova Scotians will be able to grow up to four pot plants per household, however.
“We recognize that not everybody has access to high speed Internet, but that online home-delivery option will still serve a purpose,” Furey said in response to questions from the Annapolis Valley Register. “We also believe that there will be people who will grow their own product, so in this approach, we’re trying to address those circumstances. But as I said earlier (in the press conference), there’s a lot of unknown in the space of how busy these retail models are going to be and what the uptake will be on that online delivery and what percentage of the population will actually grow their own product. So, you know, the next year is going to be a period of analysis and we’ll see what the future holds when it comes to what the retail model and one’s ability to access recreational cannabis will be going forward.”
“We’ve said from the outset our priorities are public safety, particularly around our youth, and our ability to mitigate the illicit market and transition consumers to a legal recreational market,” Furey said.
“We believe the steps that we are taking will help us get there. That differs from the approach other provinces are taking. We believe this approach is the first approach that will help us meet our objectives.”
“I personally was blown away to see the limited options people will have as far as retail outlets they can go to to purchase cannabis,” said Debbie Stultz-Giffin who heads up Maritimers United for Medical Marijuana Society. “Absolutely shocked. If they think they’re going undermine the black market in this province by only offering nine retail outlets, most of them based in liquor corporations, they’re sadly, sadly mistaken.”
One of the outlets being refurbished to sell pot is the former Clyde Street NSLC in Halifax that will reopen to sell cannabis exclusively.
Stultz-Giffin, from West Dalhousie in Annapolis County, would have to drive two hours to access an NSLC outlet that sells cannabis – and another two hours home again. She said that two-hour drive would be to purchase cannabis she expects will be well in excess of black market prices.
Stultz-Giffin said the online purchase option may do something to allow rural Nova Scotians access to marijuana, but she’s not convinced.
“Sitting back and looking at the whole scenario, many of the people who consume cannabis on a recreational basis do last minute purchase on a Friday night,” she said. “It’s an economically deprived province and most people live paycheque to paycheque, so how are they going to be able to purchase cannabis online in advance of perhaps a weekend event. It just doesn’t seem like a practical solution at all when most people would be looking at at least a two-day delivery time I would imagine.”
She said that while the planned roll-out will put many recreational users at a disadvantage in most of the province, those who use cannabis for medical reasons will be just as impacted and their health will suffer.
“Anybody who has to drive those overwhelming distances to purchase cannabis will end up being disadvantaged by the whole process,” she said. “The last I heard there were only eight per cent of the doctors in this province authorizing patients to use cannabis. So patients that go to other doctors who refuse to sign their licenses will again be denied access if they have to make that long of a trip to purchase their medicine.”
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John Percy, secretary of MUMM, said nine outlets may be sufficient for Halifax but the province would need 40 or 50 NSLC outlets to handle initial demand.
“If they want to compete with ‘organized crime, (whatever that is) this is the wrong way to go about it,” Percy said. “The province ignored every single recommendation we made to it. It appears we are not alone in that. They ignored everybody’s input. I think they have a preconceived notion and were just toying with us all.”
Percy said private dispensaries work well but the province couldn’t get a handle on how to control and regulate them.
“That requires work,” Percy said. “The method they have chosen requires no real effort. It’s always been about control and nothing else.”
Percy said MUMM met with deputy ministers from the health and justice departments and with the Chief Medical Officer for Nova Scotia.
“We were told that finance was the lead agency on this file,” he said. “That should tell you all you need to know about how they would direct their efforts.”
Asked about the online purchase option, Percy was not enthusiastic.
“Online is fine if you have a credit card,” he said. “I don’t and I know many people who also don’t have a credit card. It also depends on supply and strain availability. Are we going to rely on the ‘expertise’ of government bureaucrats as to what strains they will carry? There is nothing to stop me from buying online from a site outside Nova Scotia. How will that help their bottom line?”
The following are the locations announced Jan. 30:
-- Amherst - 126 South Albion St.
-- Dartmouth - 650 Portland St.
-- Halifax - 5540 Clyde St.
-- Halifax - 3601 Joseph Howe Dr.
-- Lower Sackville - 745 Sackville Dr.
-- New Glasgow - 610 East River Rd.
-- Sydney River - 95 Keltic Dr.
-- Truro - 6 Court St.
-- Yarmouth - 104A Starrs Rd.