Alberta expects to license 250 cannabis stores in first year

Alberta expects to issue 250 licences for cannabis stores in the first year of operation and says anyone who wants to run a weed shop must undergo extensive background checks.

Anyone who wants to run a weed shop must undergo extensive background checks, Alberta government says

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, left, revealed details of Alberta's legal cannabis regulations in Calgary on Friday, saying public safety is the primary focus of Alberta's legal cannabis regulations. (CBC/David McNew, Getty)

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission says it expects to issue 250 licences to cannabis stores across the province in the first year of legalization, but anyone wanting to sell cannabis products will have to undergo mandatory background checks and training.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley revealed details at a press conference in Calgary. The province says public safety is the primary focus of Alberta's legal cannabis regulations.

"These regulations will help support four policy priorities — keeping cannabis out of the hands of children, protecting public health, promoting safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces, and limiting the illegal market," Ganley said.

The province set the same operating hours for cannabis retails stores as that of liquor stores — between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m., and the buffer zone between cannabis stores and any school or provincial health-care facility has been set at 100 metres.

However, the province says, municipalities will have the ability to adjust both operating times and buffer zones to best suit the needs of their communities.

The province also says all stores will have to have mandatory security measures in place, like alarms and video surveillance. Stores will be allowed to display cannabis products only in locked showcases that are accessible only to staff.

250 licences in first year

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will oversee the distribution and enforcement of the province's cannabis retail system. It will also be responsible for online sales, but the details of how the online services will operate won't be released until later this year.

The AGLC estimates that in the first year it will issue 250 licenses, which will have to be renewed annually at a cost of $700 per year.

The agency will start accepting applications March 6. According to David Berry, vice-president of regulatory services, each application must be submitted with a criminal background check consent, detailed financial information and associated fees.

"Conviction such as trafficking, or producing illegal drugs, or associations to organized crime or violence will make someone ineligible for a retail licence," Ganley said.

According to the provincial regulations, no one business or person can hold more than at 15 per cent of licences "to help create a level playing field," Ganley said.

Retailers will only be allowed to employ qualified workers who have passed background checks and undergone an online Sell Safe course, which takes four to six hours to complete. 

Pricing not yet set

Premier Rachel Notley's government has already passed a bill outlining Alberta's plan for pot retail regulations. Bill 26, An Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis, sets the minimum age of consumption at 18, the province's legal drinking age.

Anyone under that age cannot enter a cannabis store, even if accompanied by an adult.

The federal government earlier set the legal possession limit at 30 grams, but so far, no price points for the sale of cannabis have been set.

Berry said pricing will be based on the markets, and stores will ideally have flexibility over their pricing, but the AGLC has the ability to set a floor.

"We really are cognizant of the fact that one of the policy objectives is to reduce the illicit market so the final price of the project needs to do that and needs to meet that objective," he said.

'Good for the industry'

Vlassis Douvis owns three hemp shops in Calgary and plans to apply for two retail cannabis licences. 

Regardless of whether or not he gets the licence, Douvis said it will be good for business.

"More people will use and they still need accessories — pipes, papers, whatever. I think it's good for the industry," he said.

In an interview CBC Calgary News at 6, Jeff Mooji, owner of the 420 Clinic, was enthusiastic about the new regulations.

"AGLC has done a really good job regulating the liquor industry over the past 20 years, and I'm glad to see they've done a really educated approach to this," Mooji said.

He believes the new regulations will prevent monopolies and give small business owners such as himself an opportunity.

"We're dealing with Big Cannabis, [Big] Business, Big Pharma, Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco — I mean they're all involved," he said. "It's nice that the little guy such as myself will be able to get involved [too]."​

With files from the Canadian Press