Alberta's private retail model lures cannabis retailer to Edmonton

Cannabis retailer Fire and Flower has moved its operations from Ontario to Alberta because it likes the private bricks-and-mortar retail model adopted by the provincial government.

'You will not see a cannabis leaf in the store, you will not see Bob Marley'

Government plans to offer 300 different products for retailers to sell once legalization happens. (Laura Meader/CBC)

A cannabis seller has moved its operations to Edmonton because it likes the private bricks-and-mortar retail model adopted by the provincial government.

"Alberta is by far the province with the clearest stance on private retail for cannabis," said Trevor Fencott, CEO of Fire and Flower. "The city of Edmonton has been the most helpful and clear, reactive and proactive in dealing with the issue.

"If you're going to spend tens of millions of dollars building out stores, you need to do due diligence and you need to have a municipal partner that is prepared to be clear."

Fencott said the private retail model will likely wipe out the black market because there will be more legal access for customers. Provinces like Ontario that have opted for publicly run stores will have a smaller number of outlets, he said. 

About 29 Ontario municipalities have been chosen for the first set of locations. The province wants to open 80 stores within the first year of legalization. 

In comparison, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission expects to issue about 250 licences within the first year. 

Fire and Flower initially wants to open 30 retail outlets in Alberta, Fencott said, but will work within provincial regulations that limit companies or individuals from holding more than 15 per cent of licences.

Other companies planning to open stores in Alberta include Liquor Stores N.A. LTD, which operates Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond outlets.

The company has joined forces with Aurora Cannabis to launch a chain of stores in Western Canada.

No cannabis leaves, no Bob Marley 

Fencott wants the design of Fire and Flower stores to challenge people's perceptions of who uses cannabis. 

He is aiming for the modern, clean style of Mountain Equipment Co-op, Lululemon or Whole Foods, not a grungy headshop that reinforces old stereotypes of cannabis culture.

"You will not see a cannabis leaf in the store," he said with a laugh. "You will not see Bob Marley."

Fire and Flower has already signed leases for some of its locations, but Fencott isn't prepared to reveal where just yet.

He said the company has been working with what he calls reputable landlords so their stores will operate in high-traffic, high-visibility areas.

Legalization was originally set for July 1, but changes to the bill in the Senate mean that won't likely occur until August at the earliest.

Fencott wants Fire and Flower stores to be open prior to legalization, not to sell product but so staff can educate and talk to prospective customers.