A Montreal think tank is suggesting the SAQ be put in charge of selling marijuana once it is legalized by the federal government.

The Institute for socioeconomic data and research (IRIS) believes the SAQ is best placed to import, distribute and manage marijuana -- and to make a profit.

The union which represents SAQ workers believes the SAQ should sell marijuana and last year asked IRIS to study whether the Crown corporation could handle quality control, age verification, and other restrictions.

Researchers Philippe Hurteau and Bertrand Schepper estimated how much pot would be sold and its price and value.

They estimate that recreational marijuana will start as a $1.3 billion industry in Quebec and in the first ten years of being legal would grow to $3.2 billion in sales.

Read the full IRIS study here [PDF, French]

Hurteau and Schepper believe that if marijuana sales are handled by private industry it would create 912 jobs, while the SAQ would create 982 jobs, would generate $10.1 million more in tax revenue, and would generate an additional $457 million in profit -- which is handed over to the provincial government as general revenue.

They also believe the SAQ already has the needed expertise in selling restricted products, and its employees are already trained to resist selling to minors and the black market.

"We think there could be a problem in the power struggle between the private sector and the black market. For example the black market can use those private sectors to launder money, or just pressure, to have an impact on the price," said Schepper. "In that case we think the SAQ is a much better network, a way to avoid those kinds of problems."

In their conclusion, the researchers said that after ten years, once the market has stabilized, the government may want to reconsider allowing sales by private companies.

In February Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said the provincial government had no interest in selling marijuana, and that the federal government couldn't force it to do so.

He reiterated those comments Wednesday.

"We are not there yet. We are very far from getting to that point. Having said that I also recognize that the federal government is indeed serious in getting to the legalization of cannabis but we are going to wait and see what kind, what is the final form, of the federal legislation and then we'll adapt to it," said Leitao. 

McGill management lecturer Ken Lester, of Lester Asset Management, said calling on the SAQ is logical.

“They're in that kind of business. They're already collecting revenue for taxes for the government so they're used to that. They're not worried about competitive pressures so they wouldn't be inclined to sell to younger kids and things like that. They must have cameras all over the place - so it's controlled - I think it makes perfect, perfect sense,” he said.

McGill psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Gabriella Gobbi said more studies are needed about the combined use of alcohol and marijuana - but we do have some information.

“Data from Colorado, we know that the interaction of alcohol plus marijuana increasse the risk of having a car accident,” she said.

This week a federal task force delivered its recommendations on how to legalize marijuana, along with a hefty list of restrictions.

The federal government has promised to introduce legislation to legalize recreational marijuana use next spring.

Research from the IRIS study was compiled using data from Colorado, where marijuana is legal. The same data also helped inform the federal task force.