“It’s simple market dynamics,” says OrganiGram’s Ray Gracewood.
“Many recreational users now purchase within the black market, so our industry challenge will be providing a safer, more consistent and better-packaged product. To make the legal adult recreational framework effective, we’ll need to ensure pricing is in line to offer value that appeals to all consumers.”
But Jackson Doughart says this will be hard to do if the provincial government decides to both regulate recreational marijuana, as well as sell it, similar to the way it does with gambling and alcohol now.
“To me, the government can either be the regulator of a controlled substance or not. If it is, then that position is compromised if it’s also the dealer effectively,” he says.
“So with alcohol, for example, the government is in the position of having to deal with health consequences and social consequences of its use, but it’s also profiting from its sale.”
Though nothing has been announced yet on how recreational weed will be sold in New Brunswick, the possibility of the province going this route is a real one. Brian Harriman, CEO of NB Liquor, which is a government crown corporation, has said they would consider selling marijuana in their own dispensaries, separate from their liquor stores.
“I see a problem with government trying to play the game and referee it at the same time. Part of what worries me is I think the provinces are licking their chops at the possibility of being able to get in as a supplier for marijuana, but all of this contradicts all of the regulations the government is talking about implementing,” says Doughart.
“For example, penalties for people providing marijuana to people underage and penalties for using marijuana and driving. It’s still going to be a heavily controlled substance in many ways and I see a bit of confusion there if government is going to be in this role of setting and enforcing rules, while also effectively being an entity that financially benefits from its sale.”
Doughart argues the smarter move is for the provinces to set core ground rules, then let the private sector develop the market from there.
“Given what’s happened with the government introducing the Cannabis Act, smart provinces will set the basic ground rules and then allow a market to develop on its own and not try to be the supplier,” he says. “But I think there’s this appetite right now where people think that New Brunswick with its problems with debt, deficit and revenue, they will want to try to get in on this as a means of catching up.”
Yet, this narrative that one industry is going to save New Brunswick is nothing new. The Bricklin, call centres and hydraulic fracking have all be described throughout the years as the “economic salvation” for New Brunswick. None of them were and Doughart says weed probably won’t be either.
“The problem with New Brunswick’s economy is not that they have not yet found a miracle product. The problem with New Brunswick’s economy is too much government and high taxes. It’s one of the highest tax jurisdictions in North America … This is another opportunity for government to grow, I think,” says Doughart.
He argues that governments should focus on setting the correct “fundamental rules” around what role government plays in the economy.
“There isn’t going to be one big policy that’s going to fix everything. You need to the get the policy regime right, the fundamentals right,” says Doughart.
“I’d say instead of focusing attention on how to turn one miracle product into something that’s going to save the economy. The more important thing is to try and come up with a better fundamental philosophy for what government’s role is in the economy.”