Cannabis is no cash cow for Nova Scotia

Legalizing pot costs too much to use sales as revenue

Nova Scotians may be tops in cannabis consumption, but legal sales aren’t generating extra funds for provincial accounts, Premier Stephen McNeil said Wednesday.

“It’s amazing how many people have told us how to spend that money before we received it,” McNeil told a business crowd in his annual State of Nova Scotia address. “We don’t see the level of cash revenue that people have been talking about.”

According to Deloitte’s 2018 cannabis report, the legal industry is expected to sell up to $4 billion in Canada this year, including up to $290 million in the Atlantic provinces. Nova Scotia has not released an estimate of how much tax revenue and sales profit will be generated through the NSLC, but McNeil said it won’t be “a huge revenue source.”

McNeil said his government will invest cannabis proceeds in impairment detection training and technology. Right now impairment testing isn’t very accurate because THC doesn’t have the same consistent, predictable effects as alcohol on the human body.

McNeil also hinted the government may eventually relax regulations for private sales.

McNeil’s address was hosted by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce at the Halifax Convention Centre. The moderator asked if the private sector will be part of the edibles market, with legalization of edibles later this year.

McNeil said Nova Scotia decided to begin with a tight distribution model to maintain control of cannabis. He said places with more liberal rules are now struggling to regain control of the cannabis industry.

It’s the model the government is likely to use for edibles. McNeil said his government will “reassess” regulations as edibles enter the market. He also said cannabis should generate revenue for other parts of government in the future.

Nova Scotia is near the top of the charts when it comes to cannabis consumption. According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotians consumed the most pot per capita in 2018: 27 grams per person. The province also came in second place, behind Prince Edward Island, for the most money spent on pot in the first six weeks of legalization, according to Statistics Canada: $11.34 per capita.