Province could open 11 cannabis stores today, CEO tells conference

NB Liquor, tasked with operating New Brunswick's stand-alone cannabis stores, says it's ready to go.

New Brunswick has been a leader among provinces in developing expertise in cannabis field

NB Liquor president and CEO Brian Harriman said stores will be ready to manage 200 product identification codes. (CBC)

NB Liquor, tasked with operating New Brunswick's stand-alone cannabis stores, says it's ready to go. 

"If we had to open today, we could open 11 stores," CEO and president Brian Harriman said at the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John on Monday.

However, some 100 workers have yet to be hired or trained by Cannabis NB, he said. 

To manage costs, hiring has been put off until it's clear when the law will be in effect, he said. 

The three-day cannabis conference is a gathering of stakeholders sponsored by Civilized, a digital media company founded by communications strategist and Saint John native Derek Riedle.

Harriman said every employee will receive 100 hours of training to provide what he called a "guided experience" about the diversity of cannabis products.

On opening day, the stores will be ready to manage 200 product identification codes, he said. 

A receptionist will greet customers and card them at the door. No person under the age of 19 will be allowed inside.

As for price, Harriman said the stores will be competitive with the illicit market but he declined to give dollar values. 

"We'll essentially have three tiers of pricing. We'll have value pricing or entry-level pricing. We'll have mainstream pricing and we'll have premium pricing, much like you would see in a liquor store across Canada."

It was hard to get ethics committees and hospitals and research institutions to approve studies where you would be asking your volunteers to break the law.- Anne McLellan , federal task force on cannabis

New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers has told the CBC that the province was counting on revenue from excise taxes on marijuana to start flowing in July. 

That was also the date that Cannabis NB was taking into account, Harriman said.

"We have taken over the leases of some of our stores. We've invested in some systems and programs, with the plan of enjoying revenue from that in July.

"So [a delayed start] does impact our bottom line in the short term, but in the long term, it's a pretty minimal impact overall."

Meanwhile, the leader of Canada's task force on cannabis, said New Brunswick has been one of the leaders in developing industry expertise, but some provinces are asking for more time to get recreational cannabis sales underway.

Cannabis task force leader Anne McLellan said legalization will make it easier to do research on cannabis. (Rachel Cave/CBC)

"Different provinces have embraced the prospect of legalization and regulation with different degrees of enthusiasm," Anne McLellan said in an interview at the Saint John conference.

Although planned for months, the congress happened to land a few days after the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-45, the legislation providing for the legal access to cannabis and the control and regulation of its production, distribution and sale.

McLellan said the retail system might not go live until three or four months after the original July target.

After the Senate vote, the cannabis bill is going back to the House of Commons with 46 amendments, which will have to be approved before the bill returns to the Senate for another vote. 

McLellan, a former justice minister in Jean Chrétien's government, said the legislation will likely pass all parliamentary hurdles by the end of June, but a delay in proclamation would make sense. 

"Better that there is product in the stores, that it is orderly, and that people feel comfortable."

Although some senators have voiced concern that not enough research has been done, McLellan said she doesn't think the government should slow down the process of legalization.

"I think it's actually the fact that we're going to legalize and regulate that is driving the increase in research," she said.

"It was hard to get ethics committees and hospitals and research institutions to approve studies where you would be asking your volunteers to break the law."

The World Cannabis Congress continues on Tuesday. Also on the agenda are panel discussions on how to brand marijuana products in a highly regulated market and where the market is expected to grow outside Canada. 

About the Author

Rachel Cave

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

With files from Harry Forrestell