Bill Blair: Some Canadians will have to wait to buy cannabis after Oct. 17
While every Canadian resident of legal drinking age will be allowed to purchase cannabis online as of Oct. 17, the options for actually going to a physical store to buy marijuana vary widely from province to province. Below, BNN Bloomberg breaks down what bricks-and-mortar stores will be available to consumers in each Canadian jurisdiction.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
Canada’s easternmost province will have 24 private retail cannabis locations open on legalization day. Some smaller businesses made the cut – Tobin’s Convenience in Labrador City, for example – but the vast majority will be owned and operated by large corporations. Grocery giant Loblaw will have 10 locations under its Dominion banner and Canopy Growth, Canada’s largest cannabis producer, will directly operate six storefronts.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Canada’s smallest province will have four government-owned cannabis stores. Locations in Charlottetown, Summerside, Montague and the West Prince region are expected to be ready on legalization day. The province just signed a supply agreement with Vancouver-based cannabis producer Tilray earlier this week, adding to its previously-announced marijuana suppliers including 7Acres, Peace Naturals Project, MedReleaf, Island Garden, Canopy Growth and Organigram.
The government-owned Nova Scotia Liquor Commission will be the sole physical cannabis retailer as of legalization day. Eleven NSLC locations across the province will offer about 150 different cannabis products in separate stores within existing alcohol retailers. Only one, newly-built location in Nova Scotia, on Clyde Street in downtown Halifax, will be devoted entirely to marijuana sales. The Clyde Street location will carry 300 cannabis products.
All 20 “Cannabis NB” locations are expected to be stocked and staffed across New Brunswick well in advance of Oct. 17, having already shown off one of the government’s completed cannabis stores in mid-June. In fact, the province is so prepared for cannabis legalization that Finance Minister Cathy Rogers has publicly lamented the lost revenue from not being allowed to open on the federal government’s original target date of July 1. Rogers said in late June the province now expects to make roughly $3.6 million in cannabis-related revenues in 2018, down from an original forecast of nearly $6 million.
With a population more than ten times that of neighbouring New Brunswick, the province of Quebec is planning to open the same number of cannabis stores. The newly-established crown corporation Société Québécoise de Cannabis (SQDC) says the plan is to open 20 storefronts “gradually” once legalization takes effect. Thus far, however, the SQDC has only announced 14 locations, with half of them in either Montreal or Quebec City. Each store will be roughly 2,000 square feet in size with daily operating hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and are expected to offer roughly 150 cannabis products each.
Canada’s most populous province shares a unique feature of its cannabis retail plan with the country’s least populous territory: neither Ontario nor Nunavut will have a single bricks-and-mortar pot store open in time for legalization. While the former provincial government was planning to establish 40 physical Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) locations by mid-October, newly minted Premier Doug Ford ditched that plan shortly after taking office in late June. Under the new plan, the OCS will launch an online-only format as of Oct. 17 while private businesses will handle all bricks-and-mortar cannabis operations. Details on what sort of private businesses will be allowed to operate, where stores can be located or how many will be allowed to open have not been released, though the province is targeting April 2019 – roughly six months into legalization – to address those issues.
Four private retail consortiums are expected to have roughly 30 cannabis stores stocked and staffed across Manitoba in time for legalization. Delta 9 Cannabis will have four locations in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson while National Access Cannabis is planning to have 10 storefronts across the province under the brand Meta Cannabis Supply Co. and another five on First Nations lands via local partnerships. Hiku Brands, which Canopy Growth recently acquired in a $250 million all-stock deal, is also planning to open 10 stores under its Tokyo Smoke brand. The province is not stopping there, however, with Economy Minister Blaine Pedersen in July announcing another round of applications for more cannabis retailers, with the overall goal of having 90 per cent of provincial residents living within a 30-minute drive of a cannabis store by the end of the decade.
More than 1,500 applications were submitted to open cannabis retail operations in Saskatchewan. After filtering out unqualified candidates, auditing firm KPMG supervised a random lottery draw in which 51 winning cannabis retailers were given approval to open storefronts as of Oct. 17. While some criticized the process that saw 17 of those licenses granted given to just five companies, the province noted more than two-thirds of successful applications were either from Saskatchewan – such as a 23-year-old student from Saskatoon – or had operations in the province.
More cannabis stores are in the pipeline in Alberta than in the rest of Canada combined. Since the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission has placed no limit on the number of applications for private retail storefronts, nearly 700 applications were submitted as of late August, with several applying for multiple locations. The City of Calgary has attracted the most interest, with 240 businesses applying to open pot shops. While the exact number of locations that will be open in time for legalization is unclear, the AGLCC estimates at least 150 stores will be licensed, stocked and staff by mid-October. Each Alberta municipality will be able to establish limits on the number of retailers allowed to operate in their jurisdiction similar to how alcohol stores, which number about 1,500 province-wide, are regulated in the province.
Despite being the unofficial home of the Canadian cannabis industry, British Columbia lags most other provinces in putting a cannabis retail strategy in place. While the official plan calls for a mix of both privately-owned stores and government-run locations under the “BC Cannabis Stores” banner, neither appears to have made much progress. In July, the province announced it had signed supply deals with 31 licensed producers and secured a location for its first BC Cannabis Store – the Kamloops’ Columbia Place Shopping Centre – but has not released any updates since then. The government only started accepting applications from aspiring private retailers as of Aug. 10, suggesting the total number of stores that will be stocked and staffed by mid-October will be fairly low. In terms of illegal cannabis retailers, however, the City of Vancouver alone is believed to already host several dozen locations.
The territorial government has specific plans to open a temporary retail cannabis location at 120B Industrial Road in the capital of Whitehorse. The 1,500-square-foot facility will open on Oct. 17 with products from Tilray, Canopy, Broken Coast and the Whistler Cannabis Company starting at $8 per gram. It will remain the Yukon’s only cannabis storefront until the territory establishes private sector regulations. Those rules are not expected to be released until after legalization takes effect.
Six government-run liquor stores will be the only physical source for residents of the Northwest Territories on legalization day. The territorial capital of Yellowknife, along with the communities of Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Norman Wells and Fort Simpson will see cannabis products added to their alcohol retailer’s shelves as of Oct. 17. Private retailers will eventually be allowed to enter the N.W.T. market, with the government targeting December 2018 to have regulations and application requirements in place.
Canada’s newest territory is the only jurisdiction in the country with no plans to allow bricks-and-mortar cannabis retail stores either when legalization takes effect or anytime thereafter. Given that it took until last year to open a single beer and wine retailer in the territory, it seems safe to assume online retail will be the only legal option for Nunavut cannabis consumers for the foreseeable future.
Cannabis Canada is BNN Bloomberg’s in-depth series exploring the stunning formation of the entirely new – and controversial – Canadian recreational marijuana industry. Read more from the special series here and subscribe to our Cannabis Canada newsletter to have the latest marijuana news delivered directly to your inbox every day.