While America is known as the great melting pot, Canada has been referred to as a quilt. In the US, cannabis regulations however, more closely follow the quilt idea because the federal government has left municipal and state governments to fend for themselves when it comes to dealing logically with cannabis. Canada, too, will have a patchwork of regulations despite federal legalization because, well, that’s just the way we are. With the lack of US federal involvement, states have been better at transitioning black market players to at least a semi-legal system. Here in Canada, my work licensing dispensaries combined with British Columbia’s long-standing history with cannabis has led BC to be the only province actively trying to include existing players. Now that the Canadian federal government has passed the Cannabis Act and set a date–October 17–here is a brief overview of what’s happening where.

The Maritimes

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the government has announced the legal age for cannabis purchases will be in line with alcohol at 19 and cannabis will be sold through private retail outlets (though in some locations, cannabis sales may be done by public alcohol retailers), according to Shop Cannabis NL. Retailers will be allowed to purchase cannabis from a licensed producer, but the province will set the retail price (proposed to be eight-percent higher–meaning that is the margin retained by the retailer). While the province has only recently posted their request for proposals (RFP), a deal made with Canopy Growth Corp allows them to produce cannabis in the province, be granted a retail license for the production site, as well as three others whose locations have yet to be determined. Loblaws, a large grocery store chain has also been given the right to retail cannabis, and as mentioned earlier, the provincial government will retail some as well. I met one of the only locals to be granted a license, Tommy, and he is ready to take on any and all customers.

New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island (PEI), and Nova Scotia all plan cannabis retail to be done through crown corporations. With 20 outlets planned to open in July (pending federal legislation), New Brunswick has already locked up supply deals with three licensed producers for roughly 20 million grams of cannabis a year for its public retail distribution system. The aforementioned companies are: Nuuvera, Moncton-based Organigram, Canopy Growth Corp (wich also will be training government employees), and Delta, BC-based Zenabis, who also secured loans from the province to build a facility in Althoville. The Zenabis deal is of particular interest as another major funding provider is the local Mi’gmaq First Nation. The only real opposition to New Brunswick’s retail plan comes from a Maliseet First Nation reserve in Tobique, where they plan to continue regulating their own cannabis industry.

PEI plans to have four stores supplied by local Canada’s Garden Island, New Brunswick’s Organigram, and Canopy Growth Corporation.

Nova Scotia’s plans are likely to receive the most resistance in the Maritimes. With a large unregulated market, and only nine stores for almost a million people, the Province is likely to run into many of the same difficulties as Ontario. Further, only one of the proposed stores would be cannabis-only, and the others would be co-located with alcohol sales. Each of these province’s crown corporations will also run online cannabis sales.

Eastern Canada

Quebec’s retail cannabis plan seems to be the strictest in the country. While they are also going the route of a public crown corporation controlling cannabis sales, they are proposing a zero-tolerance rule for cannabis in your system while driving (problematic for many reasons). They are also trying to ban personal cultivation in the province, despite federal legislation that would allow it. As of a couple months ago, the province had signed deals with six licensed producers to supply a total of 62 thousand kilograms. Hydropothecary, Aphria, and Canopy Growth Corporation are on the hook for two-thirds of that, while Medrelief, Aurora, and Tilray will be responsible for the last third. Quebec plans to have twenty stores the first year of legalization.

The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation will oversee the opening of 40 stores across the province, with another hundred or so expected within the first few years of legalization, and have retained Shopify to run online sales. Licensed producers don’t seem to have a lot of confidence that Ontario’s plan will make a dent in the thriving unregulated market of pop-ups, dispensaries, and online sites, and it may be hard for the province to convince them to lock up the amount of supply that would be needed in the province. Meanwhile, Shoppers Drug Mart has signed deals with three suppliers, and are well positioned if private retail were to be included to solve this issue. A recent election, however, showed that there are no signs of this happening soon.

Western Canada

Manitoba’s RFP received more than 100 submissions for four available cannabis retail contracts. As the only province to explicitly encourage First Nation participation, National Access Cannabis’s historic deals with multiple First Nations left them well-placed to be granted conditional acceptance. The other three companies conditionally accepted were Tokyo Smoke, 10552763 Canada Corp, and a joint-bid by Canopy Growth and local Delta-9 Cannabis. Manitoba’s Liquor and Lotteries’ call for supply closed March 26, and, by then Tilray had signed a Letter of Intent with National Access; it would be hard to imagine Canopy and Delta-9 not included in supply agreements. Manitoba, like Quebec, is also interested in banning personal cultivation.

Saskatchewan is planning to license up to 60 private retailer locations across the province in 40 different communities. They are also the only province in Canada to allow retailers to buy directly from licensed producers, and the only one that will allow private retailers sales.

While the Saskatchewan model is most friendly to private retailers, Alberta is a close second. Like Manitoba, and BC, they will allow private retail, but supply will be obtained by the province. Calgary will allow retail to accompany a production facility, though it is unclear how this will work with provincial regulations. Both Edmonton and Calgary seem set to allow consumption spaces, but again, these progressive moves may be held up by the province.

BC has the most to lose under legalization in the short-term. Hampered by a longer-than-usual transition of government following the last provincial election, they were a little slow to table their regulations. While they will allow private retail with the possibility of transitioning existing unregulated dispensaries in some communities, the micro-class of licenses pushed for (and desperately needed) by the province won’t be ready any time soon. Once they are in place, supply will have to go through the province, as in Alberta, even if the producer has a license to produce and a license to sell. Consumption spaces seem to be a way off, and it will take years before the products currently available illegally are available through legal channels. Some municipalities in BC have already moved to ban cannabis, while others are excited to become producing hubs.

Northern Canada

Nunavut is also coming a little late to the game, with an election postponing action in this issue. The territory seems set to allow only online sales of cannabis and are looking for a private partner to help them do that. Some communities already ban alcohol and the current government is not looking at giving them the same option when it comes to cannabis.

The Northwest Territories are also looking at online sales, though unlike Nunavut, they would allow communities to ban cannabis.

The Yukon is also planning online sales, but have stated they will have “at least one” government-owned and operated retail location. They have also stated they are not opposed to including private retail in the future.

With many similarities and many differences, it will be interesting to see which models work best in which regions and how quickly governments at all levels will be able to adapt to rules and regulations around cannabis that are likely to evolve for a number of years. This will, of course, be further complicated by the roll out of edible products, expected within a few years. 

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