Premier urged to press pause on Cannabis NB decision in 11th-hour letter

·3 min read
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine and 10 New Brunswick-based cannabis businesses have sent a letter urging Premier Blaine Higgs to pause a decision on privatizing Cannabis NB. (Radio-Canada file photo - image credit)
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine and 10 New Brunswick-based cannabis businesses have sent a letter urging Premier Blaine Higgs to pause a decision on privatizing Cannabis NB. (Radio-Canada file photo - image credit)

Premier Blaine Higgs is being urged to stand down on making a decision on Cannabis NB until he has consulted with businesses, residents, Indigenous groups and others.

A six-page letter, signed by Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine and nine New Brunswick-based cannabis businesses and dated March 4, presses Higgs and Finance Minister Ernie Steeves to "pause any further decision or negotiation regarding Cannabis NB."

"As investors in this province, its people and its potential, we believe we deserve to be consulted fully on the future of Cannabis NB," the letter states. "To date that has not taken place."

The letter comes as negotiations are already underway, according to a Higgs government spokesperson.

Higgs had earlier said a final decision on whether to privatize the Crown agency would be made by the end of 2020. In late December, a Finance Department spokesperson said the process "would continue into the new year."

On Thursday, the groups laid out a list of reasons the decision should be paused.

Higgs is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks on whether the government will privatize Cannabis NB retail operations.
Higgs is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks on whether the government will privatize Cannabis NB retail operations.(Radio-Canada file photo)

In addition to fears that privatization would lead to a loss of New Brunswick jobs, it argued the agency's fortunes have drastically changed since the possibility of privatization was raised in November 2019.

"At the time, it was easy to understand why the province might consider a sale of this agency given the financial losses it was incurring at the time," the letter said.

"However, those losses have been turned around and [earlier] issues … that allowed the regulated market to compete with the illicit market have been addressed."

The agency has since posted four consecutive profitable quarters and expects to exceed $10 million in profit for the year, Cannabis NB and Alcool NB Liquor spokesperson Thomas Tremblay said in February.

"This is momentum we feel will be imperilled by a move to a single private retailer," the letter to Higgs said, arguing it would "favour its own financial well-being" over the province's bottom line.

No other province has given up control, group says

In addition to Augustine, the letter is signed by the presidents of New Brunswick-based cannabis companies Zenabis Global, Organigram Holdings Inc., Stewart Farms, Lady Jane Cannabis Ltd., Golden Peak Cannabis Inc., Eco Canadian Organic Inc., New Brunswick Cannabis Co-ordinator, Flemming & Singh Cannabis and the director of the New Brunswick Craft Cannabis Association.

The letter notes no other provincial government in Canada has given up control of retail operations of the cannabis industry, arguing that doing so would jeopardize their ability to harness the sector's "global potential."

"British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec all have maintained full or partial control over their recreational cannabis industries and are seeing success ... in terms of financial returns to the province," the letter states.

The group also said that selling Cannabis NB to a private monopoly would be a "missed opportunity" for reconciliation and economic growth, noting it will make it very difficult to fully include Indigenous entrepreneurs in the regulated retail cannabis space.

CBC News has sought comment from the Higgs government.