Couche-Tard taking a laid back approach to selling pot

Convenience store operator says it will be prudent because some of its employees are nervous about selling cannabis

The chairman of Alimentation Couche-Tard says reluctance from the company's own employees and broader uncertainty about the North American cannabis market are preventing it from charging into the blossoming sector.

"There's opinions all over the place. If you talk to our people, it's like 50-50," said Alain Bouchard, co-founder of the Quebec-based convenience store giant.

"It could be a good product if it's legal. But some people are scared about the buyers of cannabis, how they will act in the store, how they can control safety, security," Bouchard said in an interview.

"They don't want to sell it. So we'll be prudent."

The use and sale of recreational marijuana will become legal across Canada on Oct. 17.

Most provinces will allow some form of private retail, while Quebec and many Atlantic provinces have opted for government control of consumer sales.

Couche-Tard, the retailer behind Circle K stores, already sells lottery tickets, beer, wine and tobacco products in many of its nearly 10,000 North American stores, noted chief executive Brian Hannasch.

"We're a $60-billion company. If we're going to divert our focus from our core, we have to believe that it leads to a path of some significant scale," Hannasch told The Canadian Press.

"It's purely exploratory at this point."

Couche-Tard's senior executives appeared more interested in selling cannabis in its Canadian stores last year.

In November, Hannasch said during a conference call that the company would welcome the opportunity to work with one of the Western Canadian provinces to demonstrate it would be a good partner in selling marijuana.

He added that the retailer was open to other formats to meet the concerns of regulators.

The company had previously hired a lobbyist to work on ensuring it is involved in Quebec's cannabis-distribution system, but Bouchard complained the provincial government had given the company the cold shoulder.

He has frequently opposed government incursions into the retail sector and criticized the Quebec Liquor Corp. for its monopoly in the past.

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