Canada: Alberta Expects 250 Cannabis Stores Will Open In First Year Of Legalization

Photo Credit: Noah Berger

Alberta could see 250 cannabis stores in the first year of legalization, with retailers able to offer discount prices on bud and marijuana oil, provincial officials said Friday.

Retailers won’t be able to own more than 15 per cent of those locations, or a maximum of 37 stores, they said and they must be located no closer than 100 metres from schools and healthcare facilities.

“This is a brand new market and we want to ensure everyone can participate, from the very small to the very large entities,” said Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, adding there’s no shortage of prospective retailers.

“There has been an enormous amount of interest.”

In Oregon, with a similar population to Alberta, there are 502 retail licences.

Last month, a city official said they alone have received interest from at least 200 potential retailers.

But regulations that include a $3,000 deposit and annual licensing and application fees totaling $1,100 “might weed out a few,” said Alberta Gaming and Liquor Vice-President Dave Barry.

One of those prospective merchants who’s been selling medicinal marijuana in B.C. for years said the province is moving cautiously and intelligently.

“I think it’s fair — they need the infrastructure  to be in place and they only have one chance to get it right,” said Fred Pels, owner of The Green Room.

“We don’t want a free-for-all…people have to be looking at the reality of the task facing the province, which is an industry coming at it like a freight train.”

Pels said his company is hoping to set up 10 to 15 stores throughout Alberta and has applications ready for when the province begins accepting them on March 6.

And officials who are setting up the fledgling cannabis retail sector say they’re confident the province will have sufficient supply from federally-licensed producers.

Those with convictions for cannabis possession will be allowed to work in the sector, though people with a trafficking past and serious crimes such as those involving violence will not.

Those aged 18 and over will be able to purchase a maximum of 30 grams at a time.

Distribution will be handled by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission which performs that duty for booze retailers and it will also operate online cannabis sales.

But the AGLC said they’ve yet to determine wholesale prices, said Barry.

“We’re cognizant of the fact we want to reduce the illicit market and price must meet that objective,” he said.

Private retailers, however, will have flexibility in setting their prices, opening the door for discounts.

But the AGLC will ensure there’s a limit to how low that price can go.

The Green Room’s Pels said that shouldn’t be an issue in an industry that’s not in the business of losing money.

“The retail street price has been the same since the 1970s – $8 to $10 a gram — and legalization isn’t going to change that,” he said.

Pels also said legalized retail should snuff out the street level black market in pot.

“If they bring craft growers in on day one, there’s no need for a black market,” he said, adding the involvement of those smaller producers will also ensure sufficient supply.

Ottawa has indicated it likely won’t meet its initial goal of implementing cannabis legalization by July 1, something that could occur later in the summer — a timetable that doesn’t worry the province, said Ganley.

She noted edibles will remain illegal, though she expects Ottawa to change that in the coming year.

And she said the government isn’t expecting a revenue windfall from storefront and online sales.

“Our modeling suggests the cost to the province will be larger than the revenues to the province,” said Ganley.

The officials confirmed laws on outdoor consumption of cannabis will be similar to those for tobacco.