Businesses in Alberta are anticipating the provincial government’s plan for legal cannabis. They are anxious to know if they will be able to conduct business under it. Speaking on Wednesday, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley chatted about the policy framework for marijuana under the government’s NDP plan, but the Trudeau government is only set to legalize recreational pot on July 1 next year.
Among the issues the government must address are distribution channels for marijuana, where it would sell, the price it would sell for, and the legal age for consumption. The distribution and sales points are key for several prominent companies in the province. Jeff Mooij is the president and CEO of the 420 Clinic medical cannabis resource center, which has plans to expand its reach to recreational pot.
Mooij expects that Alberta will not follow Ontario’s decision to set up government-run stores, but will instead give retail licenses to the private sector. “To provide the safety and security that everybody is looking for and also to create jobs, which it will, the private retail and distribution model is probably the best model for this,” Mooij said, who also runs 420 clinics in Lethbridge and Calgary.
Of all the provinces, Ontario was the first to reveal its framework for legal cannabis, with an announcement by the government that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a Crown corporation monopolizing the province’s liquor stores, would create a network of 150 standalone retail outlets for marijuana sales.
According to Mooij, because Alberta has no government-run liquor stores, the infrastructure needed for public sector retail is non-existent in the province. However, he expects that the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will have an important role to play in distribution. Mooij also noted that Ontario would fuel the black market by not creating enough outlets to supply its own demand.
Meanwhile, the Alberta Liquor Store Association is petitioning the province to sell legal pot through its 1,400 already existing private liquor shops. Ottawa, on the other hand, has yet to rule it out officially, but a federal force tasked with studying the issue advised against selling alcohol and cannabis out of the same stores or premises.
Darren Bondar, CEO of Inner Spirit, a company based in Calgary with ambitions to set up franchised dispensaries across Canada for recreational pot sales, believes wholeheartedly that his business could operate 100 outlets across the province. He is hoping the province will rule in favor of stores specializing in high-end marijuana products.
“There will be competition,” said Bondar, who also founded the Watch It chain of sunglasses and watch stores. “I think, like anything, it is best to let the free market decide who survives and who thrives and who does not fit the bill.” The NDP government has not been forthcoming about its intentions with legal cannabis, although it is promising additional public input upon the plan’s release.
The federal government set the minimum age for marijuana consumption at 18-years across the country, although provinces can increase the age limit if they so desire. Ganley, without saying what the age for cannabis consumption would be in Alberta, did say that the province will not concede to adjusting its current minimum age of 18-years for tobacco and alcohol, which Alberta Health Services wanted.
Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party, said just last week that the legal age for marijuana use in Alberta should be 18-years. In a news release, the Calgary-Elbow MLA said that, “Much as the science would tell us that a higher age for consumption makes sense, this could be problematic when the legal drinking age is still 18.”
Clark also emphasized that the province should permit private retailing of cannabis, and “under no circumstances” should it empower a new corporation for the Crown. Regarding legalized weed, the new United Conservative Party has yet to put its positions forward publically.