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Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island both set legal age for marijuana use at 19

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia and P.E.I. both set their legal age for marijuana at 19 on Thursday, but the two East Coast provinces are taking different paths on how weed will be sold. P.E.I.
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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia and P.E.I. both set their legal age for marijuana at 19 on Thursday, but the two East Coast provinces are taking different paths on how weed will be sold.

P.E.I. said it will sell marijuana at standalone outlets run separately by its liquor commission, while Nova Scotia said pot will be sold alongside alcohol in its provincial liquor stores.

Justice Minister Mark Furey said Thursday Nova Scotia believes selling marijuana through existing liquor stores will provide the necessary control to ensure public safety.

"They have a social responsibility mandate and we trust their experience in selling restricted products," said Furey. "The Nova Scotia Liquor Commission also has the infrastructure in place to support a province-wide retail operation."

P.E.I. noted its decision on separate stores was in line with a recommendation last year by the federal task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. It said there should be no co-location of alcohol and cannabis sales where possible, saying that appropriate safeguards should be put in place if co-sales couldn't be avoided.

"Dedicated stores will avoid encouraging the use of both alcohol and cannabis together," the Island government said in a release Thursday. 

The approach to retail varies nationally, with Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador offering pot sales through private stores, while British Columbia will sell through a mix of private and public stores. Ontario intends to sell the drug in up to 150 stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, while Quebec plans to sell pot through its provincially run liquor board and also plans to open 15 marijuana stores by July 1.

New Brunswick announced last month that people would be able to buy marijuana at a subsidiary of the province's liquor commission.

Furey said he believes Nova Scotia's plan aligns with what the task force said should happen when locations sell marijuana and liquor. He said the commission can train its staff and post clear signage warning of the dangers of co-usage.

"That model of retail actually provides a level of control that the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission provides now through its employees in the retail of alcohol."

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative MLA Karla MacFarlane called the government's distribution approach and age limit "shameful."

MacFarlane said the province ignored the task force's concerns on sales, and health experts who wanted a higher age limit.

"When the minister says that our number one priority was health and concern for our youth we clearly have failed them," she said.

MacFarlane said the government clearly wants to use existing liquor stores to save money.

But NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the government made the right move by keeping retail sales in the hands of the public sector.

He said the liquor commission is "in the business" of conducting distribution and retailing in the context of public education and public health risks.

"This is an area in which the NSLC has skill and I think that the government has made the right decision to place it in their hands," Burrill said.

Furey said Nova Scotia's age restriction aligns the province with what's happening nationally.

"This aligns with our legal drinking age, which all jurisdictions have done with the exception of Manitoba," said Furey.

P.E.I. said in 2015 almost 29% of Islanders aged 18 to 24 reported using cannabis in the previous year, and it chose its legal age with that in mind.

"We know that many young adults are using cannabis," its statement said. "We want to ensure that if a 19 year old chooses to use cannabis, that they can do so through a legal supply, and not force them to associate with a criminal source."

P.E.I. also said it would restrict marijuana use to private residences, to prevent exposure to second-hand smoke, ease the burden on police, and "prevent the normalization of cannabis smoking without stigmatization."

Both Nova Scotia and P.E.I. said they would also allow online sales.

Furey said the province also accepts federal rules setting a personal possession limit of up to 30 grams, a personal cultivation limit of up to four plants per household and will establish provincial penalties for youth possession of up to five grams.

Furey said one of the commission's biggest anticipated challenges would be getting enough marijuana to meet demand.

He said the government's preference is to use Nova Scotia production facilities, although only two have so far received federal approval to grow pot and they still aren't licensed to sell.

"We will endeavour to utilize those production facilities that are approved within the province of Nova Scotia. We may in the early stages have to secure supply from outside the province." 

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia also released an online survey indicating 78 per cent of the 31,000 respondents supported Ottawa's decision to legalize recreational cannabis, with 75 per cent saying 19 was an appropriate age.

Results were mixed on how people felt recreational pot should be sold, with about half saying they supported the use of a Crown corporation like the provincial liquor commission.

The majority - 73 per cent - also agreed with some outdoor use of recreational cannabis, but with restrictions.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press