Looming legalization spurs 'massive interest' in marijuana retail opportunities in Calgary

Medical marijuana counselling businesses are starting to pop up in Calgary, but the designation won't necessarily give them a leg up once recreational use is legalized, according to the city.

'I think that they just want to establish themselves as names in that industry right now,' says city official

Marijuana industry insiders say they have met with the operators of Canada's largest stock exchange to devise a policy on investing in the U.S., where growing and selling cannabis violates federal laws. (Joe Mahoney/Canadian Press)

As the federal government's deadline for legalizing marijuana approaches, dozens of Calgarians are jockeying to cash in on the ensuing business opportunities.

According to the City of Calgary there are currently two businesses with development permits to operate as medical marijuana counselling services and six more applications have been submitted over the last few months.

City council approved the new land-use bylaw definition in June of 2016 to accommodate businesses that provide information about cannabis. Unlike medical marijuana clinics, counselling services don't necessarily have a doctor on staff.

"I think that they just want to establish themselves as names in that industry right now so they have that recognition when things go live as of July next year," said Matt Zabloski, business strategist with the city's community standards department.

But having a medical marijuana counselling service permit won't put businesses any further ahead once legalization kicks in.

Matt Zabloski, business strategist with the city's community standards department said getting a marijuana counselling license won't necessarily put businesses in a better position once the drug is legalized.

"What we've been very clear with all applicants is that if they are making an application for a counselling service, there's no guarantee that it's going to be any easier for them in getting a cannabis retail shop at the end of the day," said Zabloski.

He said another 60 stakeholders have asked to be involved in the city's public consultations once the province completes its draft regulations — most of them looking for retail opportunities.

"We've had a massive amount of interest, I would say, in the last couple of months," said Zablowski.

"We have had a lot of projects that have gained a lot of interest. But, for me, this is one that's definitely outstripped all of those as far as the level of interest goes."

According the the province, which wrapped up its public engagement process on legalization at the end of July, more than 45,000 Albertans participated in an online survey and more than 100 organizations took part in roundtables, sector meetings or made written submissions.

The City of Calgary will launch its own public consultation process after the province releases its cannabis framework in the fall.