Canada Alberta will set no limit on number of private pot stores

22:21  05 february  2018
22:21  05 february  2018 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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Alberta won’t limit the number of private cannabis stores once retail sales are legalized next July, according to new details released Thursday by the NDP government.

The province confirmed that it will look to private retailers to sell legal weed from brick-and-mortar storefronts, instead of government-run outlets chosen by several other provinces, such as Ontario and Quebec.

Online sales in Alberta, however, will be available through a publicly run system, which is meant to ensure residents can tell the difference between legal and illicit retailers on the internet.

Fred Pels, chief executive of a company seeking to open as many as seven stores in Calgary by July, said the details released so far are a “good start” in Alberta’s sprint to roll out an entirely new retail market in time for Canada Day.

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“We’re eager to get to work,” said Pels, of B.C-based Green Room, which runs dispensaries in Vancouver and Nelson, B.C., with cannabis information centres in Calgary and Edmonton that it hopes to convert into retail stores.

The province’s approach also received endorsements from the Alberta Chambers of Commerce and 420 Clinic, another medical pot information centre that wants to get into the retail business.

Similarly, the Canadian Cannabis Chamber, a membership-driven industry group, backed the province’s proposals thus far, though it would have preferred a privately run online system.

In selecting its model, the NDP government rejected arguments from the Alberta Federation of Labour, which said a publicly run retail network is the best model to create good jobs and reap the best financial returns for the province.

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While other provinces have limited the number of physical stores licensed to sell cannabis — Quebec will start with 15 locations, while Ontario will initially have 40 — Alberta will set no threshold.

But an agency overseeing distribution will control the pace of new licences issued to retailers.

The province had already tapped the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to buy all of the province’s legal weed from federally licensed growers and distribute it to retailers.

At least initially, there may be some restrictions on the number of stores a single retailer can open, to prevent large, wealthy corporations from cornering the market.

Cannabis will be sold in privately run, specialized stores not involved with retailing alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals. Any existing retailers that want to get into cannabis must set up a separate business with distinct storefronts.

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Federally licensed producers will be allowed to open stores — Alberta’s Aurora Cannabis, one of the country’s largest growers, may enter the retail game — but there is a catch.

Producers would have to sell their legal weed to the liquor commission as a wholesaler — and then buy it back from the agency, potentially with a markup.

With legalization a little more than seven months away, the province said it has not yet identified the steps retailers must take to secure the necessary licences and satisfy all requirements to start selling pot on Canada Day.

Those rules are expected to be ironed out early next year.

Pels hopes the Green Room’s existing information centres in downtown Calgary and Bankview, along with five more on the horizon, will satisfy any geographic requirements from the province and city for retail stores, such as potential setbacks.

The idea is the company will already have brick-and-mortar locations that could be modified to meet any rules and regulations for private stores — as long as they’re in acceptable locations.

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“We hope to have the privilege of opening first,” he said.

Since June, 150 people have contacted Calgary’s city hall seeking answers about the future cannabis market, with more than 20 applications for medical marijuana counselling services.

Matt Zabloski, who is leading city hall’s legalization efforts, said local officials had expected to have rules in place to accommodate pot business licences by as early as the spring, but now he wonders if the province will take the lead on zoning and related regulations.

“One thing that will be nice to hear is what their plans are as far as separation distances and the zoning requirements that they alluded to today,” Zabloski told reporters.

The city is seeking feedback from local citizens on cannabis legalization, starting Monday, “to ensure … local regulations protect the safety, well being and quality of life for all Calgarians,” says an advertisement.

Online sales are meant to ensure that legal weed is available to all Canadians, even if physical stores are not yet set up in their cities or neighbourhoods.

But the province has not identified the technology it will adopt for online sales to ensure those who order and receive the products are at least 18, nor has the government released any details on how the online system will work.

Canada will become the first G7 nation to legalize cannabis sales, with the purpose of eliminating the black market, often run by organized crime, and keeping pot out of the hands of children, among other goals.

To this end, the province set the legal age of consuming cannabis at 18, the same threshold for alcohol and tobacco use in Alberta. Youths caught with cannabis could face tickets and have their parents notified, or could be charged criminally, depending on how much they’re carrying.

One key measure widely considered essential to stamping out the criminal element in pot sales is price. The cost of a dime bag from legal retailers must be competitive with illicit dial-a-dope rates.

But governments are still wrangling over how they will tax pot and share the spoils. Until those disputes are resolved, it’s unclear how low prices could go to compete with illicit dealers.

With files from Yolande Cole, Postmedia

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