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Canada Marijuana to be sold through private stores in Manitoba

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Oct. 3, 2017.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says marijuana will be sold in the province exclusively through private-sector retail outlets and online stores when recreational use of the drug is legalized in July.

Pallister unveiled some of the major points of the plan for marijuana sales Tuesday, which he said is aimed at cutting into the black market and keeping cannabis away from kids.

The government will maintain a wholesale monopoly and regulate distribution, but private stores will sell the drug at a price they can set themselves.

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Municipalities can ban marijuana stores if they want and cannabis will not be allowed to be sold in the same stores as alcohol.

"We believe this model is the best approach," Pallister said.

"Our plan is about putting safety first, putting Manitobans first and creating new market opportunities at the same time."

The government is asking potential retailers to submit bids in the coming weeks. Bids are to be judged on storage security, distance from schools and more.

The Opposition NDP, as well as public-sector union leaders, have argued that sales should be done exclusively through government-run stores. Workers at the government's liquor stores are already trained to handle intoxicants, they said.

"We've got staff ... that are trained to be able to identify if (customers) are minors," Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, said Tuesday.

"They know how to card people. They know not to sell to folks that are already intoxicated. They know how to put public safety first and foremost."

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But the Progressive Conservative government said private outlets overseen by government regulators is the best way to ensure a legal system can compete with the black market.

"This model will keep the profits from cannabis sales out of the hands of gangs and organized crime by ensuring adequate supply and accessibility," Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said.

The province still has to work out other details such as a minimum age for legal marijuana consumption.

Alberta has proposed setting the minimum age at 18 to align with the legal age for drinking in that province. It has not decided if it will allow marijuana to be sold through government-run or private outlets.

Ontario is planning to establish stand-alone government-run stores offering a set price.

New Brunswick has said it will also use a Crown corporation model and a legislature committee has recommended the minimum age at 19.

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Manitoba's move to allow private sales was welcomed by Chief Christian Sinclair of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba. The community has partnered with National Access Cannabis, a private firm that has helped people seeking medical marijuana. It plans on bidding for the right to sell recreational pot.

"Recognizing the fact that the federal government said that First Nations will play a role in this industry, in whatever fashion that may be, we see that from the economic side for sure," Sinclair said.

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