Marijuana Laws in Nova Scotia: Stephen McNeil and Legalization

Marijuana Laws in Nova Scotia: Stephen McNeil and Legalization

Our great Canadian legalization tour has taken us to all corners of the Canadian landscape… Minus the maritime provinces. Today we will explore what marijuana laws in Nova Scotia will look like. So far, provinces under Liberal administrations have fared poorer than their conservative and NDP counterparts. Will Stephen McNeil be able to redeem his political party’s cannabis record? Or will marijuana laws in Nova Scotia fare no better than Quebec? Let’s dig deeper into Nova Scotia’s cannabis economy.

The Plan

Thus far, we have seen that private and mixed cannabis economies undoubtedly show the most promise. State-owned and operated cannabis economies such as Quebec’s have fallen short under scrutiny. Marijuana laws in Nova Scotia dictate that the province will operate under this type of government monopoly.

Stephen McNeil has stated that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will be the only authorized retailer of marijuana for the province. What does this mean in practical terms? Essentially, the maritime province has aligned many of its cannabis policies with its alcohol policies.

The government plans to establish as many as 12 cannabis stores by the time legalization hits. However, just over half of these will be ready to go come October 17.

President and CEO of the NSLC, Bret Mitchell explained that the process of establishing retail stores reached a bit of a speed bump due to the federal government. The Trudeau government had initially planned for an earlier legalization date but was forced to delay until October.

“Seven of the original nine stores are at this level and we have two more that we’ll be completing in time for October. We actually slowed down a little bit on them because we didn’t want to waste a lot of money for what was initially an artificial July date.”
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Stephen McNeil and his administration have established an interesting mixed system of liquor and cannabis distribution. Rather than selling cannabis in stand-alone stores, existing liquor stores will simply expand to house cannabis as well. However, this adaptation is accompanied by a bit of an odd twist. Stephen McNeil was apparently a big fan of how BlockBuster handled its “illicit” material, as cannabis will be quarantined within NSLC stores.

Alcohol will continue to be displayed publically, however, cannabis will not have the same luxury. Cannabis products will be housed away from prying eyes in a separate part of the store. This area will have separate exits and entrances, like a sort of humidor with frosted glass windows. Mitchell went into detail on the decision to conceal Nova Scotia cannabis.

“We call it privacy without barriers. People who are not 19 years or older cannot see in here by federal law, so we have frosted the glass.”

Needless to say, marijuana laws in Nova Scotia also will permit online sales. The NSLC will take control of this aspect of retail as well.

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The Bad

Nova scotia weed
Nova Scotia’s legalization plan is not without its hiccups

Keeping cannabis behind frosted glass is a bit of an odd choice. Restricting underaged access to cannabis is essential, and the Stephen McNeil administration has clearly made this a priority.

The sentiment behind this policy is well intended, however, it’s safe to assume that it will not have the intended effect. To take an analogous example, rates of youth consumption of alcohol have been on the decline for several decades. This trend was achieved without any extraneous measures within liquor stores, instead, education was the method of choice.

Youth cannabis consumption, on the other hand, has increased steadily over the past few decades. This is in large part due to the false stigma around the plant which scientific research has managed to disprove. This should be reassurance that simply legalizing and regulating cannabis using similar methods is more than enough. Perhaps destigmatizing cannabis should also be on the agenda of Stephen McNeil.

With the NSLC already checking government identification at the counter, the BlockBuster or humidor measure represents an unnecessary precaution that only stigmatizes cannabis further in the eyes of the public.

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The Good

Cannabis Laws in Nova Scotia
With regards to the cannabis retail, Nova Scotia has its act together

The above paragraph might have given you the impression that marijuana laws in Nova Scotia completely miss the mark with regards to destigmatizing cannabis. However, the Stephen McNeil administration has made up for this blunder with a level of preparation that we have yet to see in any other Canadian province.

Preparation and Retail

It seems that Nova Scotia will be ready to hit the ground running come legalization. The Stephen McNeil administration seems to have put a great deal of thought into making the retail side of cannabis run smoothly. Ensuring an ample supply of cannabis is just one of these telltale signs of preparedness.

A well-supplied cannabis economy is imperative for all facets of the industry. If customers cannot access legal cannabis, they will continue to acquire it illegally. Without sufficient supply, prices will skyrocket and the black market will live another day.

To ensure this does not occur, the NSLC has purchased 3.75 million grams of cannabis ahead of legalization. While Canada is sure to experience a cannabis shortage, it appears Nova Scotia might be immune.

Variety of product is another area in which Nova Scotia stands head and shoulders above the competition. Each NSLC store will possess upwards of 70 cannabis strains, providing customers a great deal of selection. Cannabis is a diverse plant and different users require different things from their experience. Thus quantity, quality, and diversity of strains are essential.

In addition to securing, adequate supply, it seems that the NSLC is intent on bringing marijuana retail into the 21st century. Stores will feature a number of Ipads that will help customers navigate their products and attain valuable educational information on marijuana. Mitchell explained the choice to include Ipads in Nova Scotia cannabis stores.

“The tablets themselves are dedicated to our cannabis website and consumers can go to that to access learning and education on there, as well as scan through the assortment of product that we have and then they can talk to our staff and make their choices,”

As a formative industry, one can expect consumers (especially new ones) to be a tad ignorant of cannabis. The Ipads are an excellent, low maintenance method to bring the public up to speed.

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Additionally, the NSLC has ensured that employees are able to serve the public in their new role as distributors of cannabis. Additional training has been provided which will be necessary to accommodate the new products these joint stores will be selling.


Nova Scotia is not immune from what seems to be an endemic Canadian problem. In our insufferable bureaucratic cautiousness, we risk reinforcing the ever-present stigma around cannabis. However, the Stephen McNeil administration has shown itself more than capable of establishing a functioning, well-conceived system of state-run retail.

There are certainly many x-factors waiting to be determined such as price, however, as of this article. Nova Scotia has gone against the grain and demonstrated that effective systems of cannabis distribution do not necessarily have to be private. Perhaps Quebec should take note.

By: Stefan Hosko
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