Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has set this July as the deadline for passage of the long-anticipated cannabis legalization law in Canada. The new law will be phased in over a period of several weeks, but the first legal sales are expected by summer’s end. However, it won’t be a uniform policy across the country, as Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories are each implementing their own regulations — with plenty of variation as well as controversy.
While Ontario and Quebec are opting for provincial government monopolies on retail sales, Alberta and Saskatchewan have embraced a private model, sparking a flood of canna-capital into these western provinces.
Alberta: A Green Rush in the Prairies
Mack Andrews, vice-president of the Alberta Cannabis Collective, thinks his province is positioned to be nothing short of a global leader in the retail cannabis market. He told the Toronto Globe & Mail this week: “What I really see is Alberta setting a worldwide standard that could be adopted in other jurisdictions as they legalize in the future.”
This windswept province, where the Great Plains meet the Canadian Rockies, has traditionally looked to resource extraction as its economic mainstay.
But world energy prices are now depressed, and Andrews sees legal cannabis arriving just in time.
“With the way the oil and gas industry has gone over the past couple of years, there’s a lot of really talented, educated people in Alberta who are looking to transition or are already out of that industry and looking for new things,” he said.
As of early May, two months after the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) started accepting applications for retail licenses, it had received 533 bids. There is no cap on permits in Alberta, although no single individual or entity can hold more than 15 percent of retail licenses in the province.
Andrews isn’t the only one anticipating an Alberta cannabis boom. Toronto retailer Fire & Flower earlier this year relocated its headquarters to Edmonton, Alberta’s capital. Fire & Flower has applied for 37 retail licenses in Alberta, the maximum now allowed. Enthused Fire & Flower vice president Nathan Mison said, “Alberta has created a very clear and concise environment, which allows investors, organizations, and retailers to have a level of understanding that is sometimes in flux in other provinces across Canada,”
Similar ambitions are expressed by Jeff Mooij, president of 420 Clinic, the first licensed medical marijuana outlet in Calgary, Alberta’s biggest city. He plans to vend herbal wares across the province under the name 420 Premium Market, and has applied for more than 20 licenses.
Mooij credits lobbying for Alberta’s wide-open approach. “We really worked hard to try and educate not just city council members in the city of Calgary, but the province too, on making sure that we do this properly, that we’re not punishing our industry for [people’s] own stigma and beliefs. And everybody inherently has them, because this has been illegal for so long,” he told the Globe & Mail.
Saskatchewan, New Brunswick & Newfoundland and Labrador: More Limited Private Models
Saskatchewan, the next province to the east to Alberta, has also opted for a private model, but has imposed a province-wide limit of 51 retail permits.
In Saskatchewan, Tweed Grasslands, a local subsidiary of Canadian giant Canopy Growth Corporation, has won five of the 51 available permits. The company also owns a 90,000-square-foot facility in the southeast Saskatchewan city of Yorkton that has a federal license to grow medical marijuana. So an easy transition to the recreational market is anticipated, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports.
Another CBC report notes that one of the Saskatchewan retail permits has gone to Cierra Sieben-Chuback, a 23-year-old “student entrepreneur” in Saskatoon. She hopes to launch soon after her imminent graduation from the University of Saskatchewan’s business school. “It’s like my birthday on steroids,” she said. “This is quite surreal, I’m not going to lie.”
In New Brunswick, Canopy Growth is one of two companies — the other one is Organigram — who will work with the government to grow cannabis for the provincial market. New Brunswick’s government will then license private retailers.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the province’s Liquor Corporation will be licensing private retailers to sell cannabis. However, “retailers are going to be under close watch,” reports the province’s daily newspaper, The Telegram.
Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island: Government-Operated Cannabis
Other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, have adopted a policy of only government-operated retail cannabis outlets. The Canadians already have government-run liquor stores, so the precedent has already been set for this kind of government-operated store.
With legal cannabis coming soon, Ontario is ironically witnessing a vigorous crackdown on independent private dispensaries that have been up to now operating in a kind of legal “gray zone.”
Also worth noting: Quebec’s proposed legislation would allow people to smoke cannabis in most places where cigarettes are allowed. In neighboring Ontario, the bill passed in December bans consumption in public. So theoretically, Ottawa residents could head to Gatineau, the adjacent town in Quebec, buy cannabis and walk back home smoking it — as long as they stopped halfway across the interprovincial bridge and either finished off their joint or tossed it into the Ottawa River (which would certainly be a waste).
British Columbia, Manitoba & New Brunswick: “Hybrid” Models
British Columbia is planning a mix of government-run and private outlets. The government-run dispensaries will be operated by Canada’s Liquor Distribution Branch, which has announced they are working on creating an online service for purchasing cannabis.
In Manitoba, the government’s liquor and gambling department will supply and license private retailers, but those private dispensaries will control the sales.
Home Cultivation, Still Up in the Air Nationwide
Then there’s the question of cultivation. On May 31, Canada’s Senate voted down a provision that would have imposed a blanket federal ban on home cultivation. Another Conservative-sponsored measure was then introduced to restrict homegrown to the interior of a dwelling — meaning no backyard cannabis plants. This too was rejected, the Canadian Press reports.
However, provinces and territories may choose to ban homegrown. The draft legislation now poised to pass in the far-north territory of Nunavut would do exactly that, according to the CBC.
A Nationwide Patchwork of Laws
All these different provincial regulations make for what the Ottawa Citizen calls a “crazy quilt of marijuana laws” emerging across Canada. The paper quotes Ottawa lawyer Trina Fraser saying that someone should invent an app called “Am I Breaking the Law?” to help Canadians navigate the confusion when cannabis goes legal.
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