The Saskatchewan government has announced marijuana will be sold by private companies after the drug is federally legalized.
'It's an ill-defined market right now. We're not sure what the future of that is going to be.' - Gene Makowsky, minister responsible for SLGA
Gene Makowsky, the minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), said the move was made under a tough deadline. The federal government is pushing for a legalization date of July 1.
"The federal government has established very aggressive timelines for the legalization of cannabis," Makowsky said.
"Our government is being diligent to ensure the sale and regulation of cannabis in Saskatchewan strikes a balance between public safety and access for consumers."
Under the new rules, SLGA will issue about 60 retail permits to private stores located in roughly 40 municipalities and First Nations across the province.
While a recent online survey commissioned by the province showed 45 per cent of respondents would like to see SLGA run the stores, Makowsky said the government wasn't interested in spending millions of dollars in setting up the infrastructure needed to sell marijuana.
"It de-risks the taxpayer, certainly," he said.
"It's an ill-defined market right now. We're not sure what the future of that is going to be."
Makowsky said the province would still make money from taxation and licensing fees, although those details have not been sorted out yet.
Municipalities will have the option to opt out of having a cannabis store if they choose. Saskatoon will be given the option of having seven licences, while Regina will receive six and smaller cities such as Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Lloydminster will receive two.
"I think it's important for that level of government to be able to say, 'This isn't for our community,' " Makowsky said. "I think leaving it up to them is the way we're going to go."
Meanwhile, the provincial opposition criticized the Saskatchewan Party for offering few details to either the public or potential companies.
"If you're a retailer who wants to get involved in this business, you're no further ahead in terms of knowledge," said interim NDP Leader Nicole Sarauer.
"We have very little information in what's going on in this industry."
Public consultations ignored, says Sarauer
Saskatchewan was the last province in the country to offer marijuana policy before legalization.
"We're so far behind on this file," she said.
"Even today, we've learned very little in terms of what's going to happen."
'We're so far behind on this file. Even today, we've learned very little in terms of what's going to happen.' - interim NDP Leader Nicole Sarauer
Sarauer accused the Saskatchewan Party of ignoring public consultations on marijuana, and said the SLGA should have a larger role in selling marijuana.
"It was clear from the feedback that the people of Saskatchewan wanted some role for public involvement," she said.
"Most provinces are using their SLGA-like organizations to be the warehouser and the distributor."
Operators will also have the chance to run online stores, giving access to remote locations.
Stores will only be able to sell fresh and dried marijuana, oils, plants and seeds. Federal regulations for edibles are not expected until July 2019.
SLGA will regulate
As with private liquor stores, SLGA will regulate wholesaling and retailing.
Stores will be limited to selling marijuana and marijuana accessories. They will also have to track and report inventory, and will only be able to buy from regulated wholesalers.
Ultimately, a third party will draw up a short list of qualified stores. After that, a lottery will be held to select stores that will qualify for a permit.
Makowsky admitted that stores already selling marijuana might lose access to the market under a lottery system.
"If SLGA had to go through a full [request for proposals process], the time restraints would be very difficult and very tight," he said.
It's still not clear whether retailers will be able to buy from wholesalers outside the province.
The province still hasn't announced the minimum age for cannabis consumption. That announcement will be made later this spring.