The Nova Scotia government is calling an initial nine-store network for the province's cannabis sales "a reasonable approach" as the country moves toward a legalized marijuana market this summer.
But Justice Minister Mark Furey admitted Tuesday there are gaps in that network — most notably in the Annapolis Valley, along the South Shore and in the Strait region, none of which will have retail outlets selling cannabis.
"I don't believe that we would ever be able to provide a retail model in every community," he told a news conference. "So communities will look to other options — and we believe that the online home delivery will be a key piece of that."
While one of the stated goals of legalized marijuana is to try to kill illicit trade of the drug, Furey acknowledged the province would initially likely fall short of that. "The black market will continue to exist," he said.
Halifax home to pot-only outlet
Nova Scotia had announced in December that cannabis would be sold alongside beer, wine and spirits at some Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. locations. A list of the first stores that will stock marijuana was released Tuesday:
- Amherst — 126 South Albion St.
- Dartmouth — 650 Portland St.
- Halifax — 3601 Joseph Howe Dr.
- Lower Sackville — 752 Sackville Dr.
- New Glasgow — 610 East River Rd.
- Sydney River — 95 Keltic Dr.
- Truro — 6 Court St.
- Yarmouth — 104a Starrs Rd.
The NSLC will also be reopening the Clyde Street liquor store in downtown Halifax as a cannabis-only operation.
The government plans to do a reassessment after one year.
Six of the nine stores were chosen because they currently house bottle-your-own-wine facilities, which will be replaced by boxed-in counters where customers will be able to buy cannabis seeds and flowers, along with dried leaves.
Although the sale of marijuana plants will be permitted when federal government legalizes the drug in July, it's unclear where in Nova Scotia those seedlings will be sold.
"We haven't decided whether we'll sell plants or not yet," said NSLC president Brett Mitchell. "Our intention, at this point, is not to sell them."
In Nova Scotia, each household will be allowed to grow up to four plants for personal use.
'Modern' but 'modest' look
Mitchell described the soon-to-open cannabis locations as "enclosed boxes inside these stores."
"The product has to be out of view, so it'll be behind some version of some kind of a wall or semi-opaque entrance," he said. "And inside it, it's going to feel modern. … It'll be bright. It'll be well-serviced. It'll be full service. But it'll be modest as well."
The NSLC's 60 agency stores, which are mostly in smaller, rural communities, will not be allowed to sell marijuana.
PC MLA Karla MacFarlane said the lack of stores selling pot in some areas of the province would allow those who currently sell illegally to continue their illicit businesses.
"What we're going to see is an opportunity for the black market to continue and thrive quite well to be honest," she said.
People will also be able to buy online and have cannabis delivered to their homes, but details of that operation are not yet available.
The NSLC is currently looking for contractors to bid on the renovation work that will be needed to keep cannabis and liquor sales within one store separate.
Initial setup costs are expected to outstrip revenue in the first year of operation, according to both Mitchell and Furey.
"Some are of the view that there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We don't see that. This is imposing significant costs on provincial governments to transition to this legal market," said Furey.
And although Nova Scotians will be able to get a legal high starting in July, flying for free will not be an option. Unlike liquor, beer and wine sales, you will not be able to collect Air Miles on pot purchases.