A year after cannabis legalization Higgs has yet to make ‘final decision’ on future of Cannabis NB

Click to play video: 'N.B. government considering privatizing its crown corporation Cannabis NB'
N.B. government considering privatizing its crown corporation Cannabis NB
ABOVE: N.B. government considering privatizing its crown corporation Cannabis NB – Oct 17, 2019

On this day last year lines stretched outside of Cannabis NB stores across the province, but this year the 20 provincially operated storefronts were a bit quieter. When asked if New Brunswick’s foray into recreational cannabis has been a success, premier Blaine Higgs was blunt.

“No. It has not. We’re losing our shirt,” Higgs said.

“I said early on that only New Brunswick could lose money on weed. Now we find out that other provinces could do it too, so maybe I should rephrase that, only government could lose money on weed.”

READ MORE: ‘We’re not going to keep losing money’: New Brunswick premier mum on future of Cannabis NB

Last October, former Cannabis NB CEO Brian Harriman said he hoped the crown corporation would at least break even while contending with overhead and start-up costs across the 20 new stores. That hope now looks overly optimistic as New Brunswick has proven adept at losing money in the cannabis business.

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Last year Cannabis NB lost $11.7 million while contending with widespread supply shortages, even laying off around 60 employees just months after opening their doors.

“New Brunswick has botched it big time. It’s incomprehensible that government can lose money selling marijuana but that’s exactly what they’ve been doing since it started,” said Kris Austin, leader of the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick.

The party has long called for the privatization of Cannabis NB and says they are optimistic about the prospect after meetings with the premier, who’s minority government is currently being supported in confidence matters by the PANB.

READ MORE: Higgs sounds off as Cannabis NB posts $11.7M loss

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“It’s what we campaigned on, we campaigned on the private sector looking after the retail of marijuana, with government regulating it and taxing it which is the way it should be,” said Austin.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of doing business … let it be privatized and let the private sector deal with it.”

Higgs has seemed receptive to privatization in the past, saying back in September at the Progressive Conservative caucus meetings that the province was still “testing the waters” when it comes to the future of the crown corporation.

“For us it’s like what is the right balance between regulation and, control, safety of users of any age, and that’s government’s role and how do we have a retail model that works best for New Brunswickers,” he said Thursday.

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READ MORE: New Brunswickers are avoiding buying pot with credit cards, sales figures show

“We have an expensive system, there’s no question about that … so we are moving in a direction, we haven’t made a final decision yet and it will take a while, but we will be likely talking about this further over the coming weeks and months about where we’re moving for the next step.”

But yet another big change lurks on the horizon. As of Thursday licensed producers can now bring potential edible products to Health Canada for approval, allowing them to appear on shelves in December.

Cannabis NB declined multiple requests for an interview but said in a statement that they intend to launch products in every edible category but are refusing to speculate what the new product line could do for the bottom line.

“We believe that phase 2 products will contribute incrementally to the revenue of Cannabis NB as they offer more options to consumers however, what exactly that will look like in terms of projections or supply is too early to determine. Many potential suppliers still need to finalize a number of details based on the regulations being released before we can finalize the agreements,” reads the statement.

READ MORE: Will your cannabis credit card purchases be visible to U.S. border officials? (Some might, some won’t.)

The New Brunswick Medical Society is keeping a close eye on the coming edible market and is urging consumers to be cautious with a relaunch of its “Legal, Not Safe” campaign that was first rolled out last year.

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“We are probably anticipating people trying these products for the first time now that it’s in edible form and not a smoking form, so this is where we’re coming from in terms of educating, not only people who have used these products before but the person who may be trying it for the first time,” said NBMS president Dr. Chris Goodyear.

Goodyear said those who do choose to consume cannabis edibles should always keep the product safely out of reach and sight of pets and children, never mix them with alcohol, and be careful not to overindulge.

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