News / Halifax

Tristan Cleveland: Let’s tie pot to selling healthy food in Halifax convenience stores

Metro's columnist says we should do green for green so more people have access to healthy fruits and vegetables throughout the province.

A local pot smoker rolls up a marijuana cigarette.

Staff / Metro

A local pot smoker rolls up a marijuana cigarette.

We need to figure out how to sell weed in Nova Scotia - we also need to get more stores to sell healthy food.

Maybe we can use one problem to solve the other: allow stores to sell weed if they also offer a minimum quantity and quality of fruit and vegetables.

Access to healthy food is a major problem in Halifax. Getting to a store that sells broccoli can be a major struggle for residents in Harrietsfield, Middle Musquodoboit, and parts of urban neighbourhoods like Spryfield and north-end Halifax and Dartmouth.

For many, the closest spot to buy food is a gas station or corner store, where the dinner menu is too often Mr. Noodle and Alphagetti.

According to a 2014 report, Food Counts, one in five people in Halifax have trouble affording basic food needs, the highest rate of all cities studied. For many who can’t pay for a car or a taxi, that corner store is where dinner comes from.

It’s also true that selling produce isn’t easy for corner stores. The markup is small and anything that doesn’t sell in a few days goes bad.

Marijuana, in contrast, will no doubt have big, fat profit margins, especially if government sets minimum prices. Well over a billion dollars of recreational pot was sold in Colorado in 2016.

If we use those profits as a carrot to encourage stores to sell carrots, the benefits for food accessibility would be two-fold. Not only would more stores have vegetables, but there will be more stores.

Convenience stores are everywhere in Montreal because they are allowed to sell another high-margin sin product, alcohol. One store owner told me beer and wine make up 30 per cent of his business.

If selling weed supported the economic viability of stores – while requiring they sold good produce – the drug could become a shuttle for disseminating healthy food to communities that need it.

What are the alternatives?

I hate the idea of the government dispensaries, as has been recommended in New Brunswick. We have the opportunity to support hundreds of local small businesses, any number of which have the potential to expand and turn into something new or valuable for our economy. We can do better than creating a few new static government jobs.

I’m also nervous about private dispensaries that focus on selling pot, because they may encourage and normalize a culture of smoking.

According to the World Health Organization, smoking excessive quantities of weed can impair mental function, cause lung disease, and exacerbate schizophrenia. While it’s exciting we will no longer use police to manage the health impacts of marijuana, it’s still a health issue.

Better to sell marijuana discreetly alongside tobacco behind the counter in corner stores with no advertising allowed. If weed led to more stores opening in more communities, it would of course be critical to ensure they are not allowed to actively promote bad habits.

The three biggest factors for supporting good health is to eat well, walk more, and smoke less. When analyzing the health impacts of how we sell weed, we shouldn’t focus exclusively on the third issue, smoking less. We should also use it to support the first two, creating complete communities where people can walk to eat healthy.

If some products cause health problems and make big profits, and other products improve health but lose money, it makes sense to use the first to pay for the second.

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