A cashier scans a customer’s purchases at a B.C. Liquor Store. RICHARD LAM / PNG

It’s late afternoon and you receive a text message: “Friends coming for dinner. Please pick up wine.” You pull into the neighbourhood liquor store, pick up a bottle of your favourite wine and head home. A familiar scene taking place across the province every day.

When you go into your local liquor store, you have confidence knowing that you are buying a quality product in a secure environment, with stores conveniently located in every community across the province.

B.C.’s public and private liquor stores have a proven track record over many decades, selling controlled alcohol products to adults in a responsible manner, with more than a 90 per cent compliance rate in restricting sales to minors.

B.C.’s liquor stores are a perfect fit for non-medical cannabis sales, especially given the tight timeline for implementation of July 1, 2018 provided by the federal government. B.C.’s efficient liquor distribution network has been serving controlled products to British Columbians for 96 years.

During the provincial government’s public consultation on non-medical cannabis regulation, some groups have suggested that co-locating marijuana with alcohol is not recommended, as it contributes to co-use of the products. Others have suggested that people using medical marijuana to help treat alcoholism should not have to purchase cannabis from a liquor store.

The Responsible Marijuana Retail Alliance of B.C. fully supports an evidence-based public health policy approach that discourages the co-use of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. We also believe that medical cannabis use should be administered by a safe, separate and effective medical cannabis distribution system.

As part of this evidence-based process, we point to a submission to the federal cannabis task force by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, which states that “there is no evidence as to whether selling cannabis and alcohol alongside one another encourages or facilitates co-use.”

In contrast to the lack of evidence of harm associated with co-location, academic research shows that harm reduction policies are better implemented by public agencies like the Liquor Distribution Branch than by private networks.

The CAMH submission supports the distribution of non-medical cannabis by “provincial liquor boards.” Both Ontario and New Brunswick are already using liquor boards to distribute and retail cannabis.

The Ontario government approach to cannabis sales uses the public liquor distribution network to sell non-medical cannabis in 150 costly new public stand-alone sales outlets. However, only 40 locations will be in place in the first year, with the remainder to open by 2020 — creating ongoing demand for a black-market cannabis industry.

By contrast, B.C.’s 868 public and private liquor stores, with our highly trained staff, already provide secure sale of controlled substances in every community across the province.

B.C.’s liquor stores are also compliant with current municipal zoning bylaws and provincial licensing regulations, unlike the majority of existing unlicensed cannabis dispensaries, or potential stand-alone outlets.

Given the very short timeframe for the province to implement federal cannabis regulations, any stand-alone distribution network would be extremely costly to implement, and would duplicate the work done by the existing Liquor Distribution Branch. It would be difficult if not impossible to have a parallel system in place by next summer.

We believe that B.C.’s existing sales and distribution system maximizes the benefits to our province while minimizing risks. Done properly, the retail and distribution of non-medical cannabis through our current liquor distribution system will create good jobs for British Columbians and generate revenue to fund public services, while minimizing potential harms associated with cannabis use.

Stephanie Smith is president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union; Damian Kettlewell is a director and cannabis spokesperson of the Association of Beverage Licenses of B.C. on behalf of the Responsible Marijuana Retail Alliance of B.C.

Article originally found at http://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-b-c-s-liquor-stores-are-the-responsible-way-to-retail-cannabis