Cathy Rogers defends province's planning for its pot business

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Cathy Rogers defends province's planning for its pot business

Cathy Rogers defends province's planning for its pot business

Listen to the full CBC New Brunswick Political Panel podcast by downloading from the CBC Podcast page or subscribing to the podcast in iTunes.

Finance Minister Cathy Rogers says having cannabis sold in a totally controlled, tightly overseen market at CannabisNB stores will ensure legalization of the drug gets off to a safe start in the province. 

"It's important that we get this product out as a safe, standardized product in an environment with education and protecting health and safety and getting it away from children, and we believe this is the best model," Rogers said during the CBC political panel.

Rogers was responding to concerns from opposition parties over how the Liberal government is preparing for the legalization of cannabis next July. 

She announced earlier that CannabisNB, a subsidiary of NB Liquor, would run stand-alone pot shops across New Brunswick.

Where is business plan?

But Progressive Conservative MLA Bruce Fitch wondered why the Liberal government is still without a business plan on how it will work. 

"They've chose the most expensive distribution model that is available, with high end stores in a very limited number of locations," he said.

Fitch said he's happy with the agreement that will see the provinces receive 75 per cent of the taxes on any cannabis sold, but he asked why the public has heard nothing about a New Brunswick business plan or prices this far into the process.

The system may cost taxpayers more than expected, he said.

Rogers said the government is committed to a price that will compete with the illegal market but she would not reveal what it was.

Fitch said if the PCs were in government, they would have opted to have the private sector oversee the sale and distribution within the province.

"It would have been cheaper to roll out and cheaper to distribute the product and you would have covered more points of sale." 

Scrutiny needed

Green Party Leader David Coon said he's not upset about pricing and he thinks a lot of people who use cannabis socially are relieved that they will be able to go to CannabisNB to buy it. 

"The thing that I'm concerned about particularly is the regulatory regime that's been proposed by the government through five separate bills is not getting the scrutiny it needs," Coon said, adding he's had no time to bring forward any of the amendments he'd like to see. 

NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie said she thinks the portion of pot sale revenues for the province should have been higher to help put more money into health care, education, mental health and addiction, which would help offset added costs those departments may see as a result of legalization. 

Private model way to go

People's Alliance representative Randall Levitt said the province should not be in the business of selling cannabis and said his party preferred a private model for sales and distribution. 

Levitt said it would have been a way for people who are already selling drugs, in a way now considered illegal, to legitimize their business once the laws are changed. 

"They're experts in it, they produce a high end product that is well sought after by those in the recreational pot industry and those that want to access it."