New Brunswick has a long and complicated history with cannabis

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Cannabis prohibition may have ended just over one year ago, however, pot has a long history in New Brunswick.

The story of cannabis in New Brunswick begins nearly two centuries ago, when maritime hemp growers used their crop for ship sails, ropes and clothes. Late European settlers popularized the use of hemp in the 19th century for everyday uses.

According to a letter dating back to 1892, written by the provincial secretary of agriculture Julius L. Inche, hemp never was a robust industry. Cannabis was being harvested on the southern border of New Brunswick, in an area now known as Edmunston. Inche was less than optimistic about it being a profitable crop.

“There is no difficulty about its growing in this province, but I do not look upon it as an industry that can be made profitable,” he wrote.

Inche goes on to say there was once a proposal to stimulate cannabis production in New Brunswick, but it never actually came to be.

New Brunswick’s complicated relationship with cannabis made its way into a government scandal, in 1984, when then-Premier Richard Hatfield was charged with possession for carrying 35 grams of weed in his luggage after a visit with the Queen.

Hatfield was later acquitted of the possession charges after claiming the weed was planted on him. Regardless, he was thrown out of office three years later.

It took almost 20 years after the scandal for Saint John to become home to Canada’s first-ever, over-the-counter cannabis café. Jim and Lynn Wood opened the medical marijuana dispensary and café in April 2003. Cops usually turned a blind-eye to the business, but Lynn Wood would eventually be arrested — while pregnant — for selling a single gram of weed.

Fast forward 15 years and recreational cannabis use is legal and operated by the New Brunswick provincial government. After one full year of legalization, the Crown operation turned out to be a money pit.

Cannabis NB, the Crown corporation responsible for cannabis sales in New Brunswick, bleeding money / Photo: Postmedia Postmedia

Inche’s prediction about weed not being profitable in New Brunswick wasn’t so far off. According to Cannabis NB, profits fell almost $12 million in its first six months of sales. According to the latest Statscan figures, the province led the country in September with the steepest decline in sales of legal marijuana, down 40 per cent over the previous month.

The New Brunswick government has announced it is accepting submissions for private enterprise to step in and take over.

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