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Pot sellers sought

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WINNIPEG—The Manitoba government raised the distinct possibility yesterday that it may allow private retailers to sell marijuana when recreational use of the drug becomes legal next July.

The Progressive Conservative government called for expressions of interest from potential producers and vendors in a 10-page document issued to “gauge options and possible participants in the new cannabis industry in Manitoba.”

Justice minister Heather Stefanson said the government is willing to consider private sales for cannabis and go beyond stores run by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

“No options are off the table right now,” she said.

"We are opening this up to get more ideas about how to do this.

“We welcome [Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries] to give their expression of interest, as well as all Manitobans with respect to the distribution,” Stefanson added.

The opposition New Democrats called on the government to ban private cannabis retailers in Winnipeg and other communities large enough to have government-run liquor stores, at least initially.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents liquor store workers, also called for a fully public sales model.

Even if separate stores are set up for cannabis and alcohol, they should be run and staffed by liquor and lotteries employees, union president Michelle Gawronsky said.

“They've already built a huge organization that keeps liquor accountable,” she noted.

"It keeps people responsible. It provides proper training.

“So why would we want to reinvent that?” Gawronsky asked.

“Why don't we just use what we've got now?”

The province has a mixed approach to liquor sales. Only government stores can sell the full spectrum of hard liquor, beer, and wine.

There is a large number of private beer vendors, mainly at hotels, and a small number of private wine stores.

Stefanson said it's too early to determine what sales might look like.

People interested in supplying and selling cannabis have until Sept. 8 to respond to the government's request for input.

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