Edmonton

Jasper, Fort McMurray and Lac La Biche to get pot shops after licence moratorium ends

Fleur Cannabis Boutique and Equilibrium Cannabis are two of five new pot shops to get their licenses last week after the moratorium on new cannabis retail locations ended.

'We're making history being the first one in the community to be open up here'

After a seven-month wait since legalization, Jasper is one step closer to getting its first cannabis shop. (Town of Jasper)

When Jenna McGrath found out she'd finally be able to open her cannabis business in Jasper, Alta. after months of uncertainty, she was elated.

"It just feels amazing to feel the support within our community … to finally have achieved this," McGrath said.

Fleur Cannabis Boutique is one of five new pot shops to get their licences last week after the moratorium on new retail locations ended.

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) announced it would issue five retail licences each week as it goes through the list of approved applicants.

Two other communities who haven't had any brick and mortar cannabis store locations also had businesses licensed — Plant Life in Fort McMurray and Equilibrium Cannabis in Lac La Biche.

In limbo

While McGrath was excited to hear that she'd be able to open soon, she was also relieved because months of expenses had been piling up while she waited for a licence.

McGrath and her husband, Sean, invested the down payment on their future home to open Fleur.

She estimates she's lost around $50,000, taking into account the projected revenue Fleur would have brought in if it had been able to open on Oct. 17 when cannabis was legalized across Canada.

McGrath owns another business in town called Jasper Wellness, which offers yoga and massage therapy.

Jenna McGrath hopes to open Fleur in Jasper by mid-June. (Supplied by Jenna McGrath)

McGrath initially planned for Fleur to open in Jasper by the time cannabis was legalized based on a two to four month application process estimate from the AGLC.

The process to get approved took longer than expected and the moratorium on new licences was implemented in November.

"It was pretty deceiving. I was really close to being licensed at that point in time ... I felt very lost," McGrath said.

McGrath expected risk when it came to whether her location would be approved, or whether Parks Canada would allow cannabis in the community, but she knew those kinds of decisions were out of her control.

McGrath said she never could have predicted the moratorium. 

"As an independent person in this game without a large financial backing ... it was scary. It left me in a really vulnerable place," she said.

McGrath said that she was lucky she already had the lease for Jasper Wellness because Fleur will be located in the same building, but she knows other entrepreneurs who planned to open retail locations are more vulnerable.

'Making history'

Gerry Webster and Derek Ewaskiw are co-owners of Equilibrium Cannabis, soon to open in Lac La Biche.

Webster said they sent in their application for a licence a few days after the AGLC opened the process in March 2018.

By the time the moratorium was implemented due to supply issues, they'd finished up everything but "the last little bit of paperwork."

Both Webster and Ewaskiw own other companies but had to take on additional part-time jobs for the past seven months so they could afford to pay the lease and utilities for their cannabis business.

Webster said they were putting in 20-hour days to cover their costs without any revenue.

"I'd have to be on site at 5 a.m. for welding work until 6 p.m. then I'd go to my meal prep company and cook meals until about midnight .. then back up at 4 a.m.," said Webster.

Gerry Webster and Derek Ewaskiw were putting in 20-hour days at other jobs to cover their costs of their unopened shop. (Supplied by Gerry Webster)

Despite the financial stress, Webster said they are excited to finally open in Lac La Biche.

Webster expects Equilibrium Cannabis will be able to open its doors in four to five weeks. He said they'll be talking to the AGLC about the ordering process and how to move forward this week.

"We're making history being the first one in the community to be open up here," he said.

As for McGrath, she's hoping Fleur will open up by mid-June.

"My heart is content with knowing that the work that I had been moving on since June is playing out in my favour now," McGrath said.

There are currently 110 applications for retail locations that have been approved and waiting to be licensed by the AGLC, plus another 473 pending applications. There are 106 licenced retail locations in the province. 

If supply levels go down, the AGLC said it will consider reinstating the moratorium.

About the Author

Emily Rendell-Watson is an Edmonton-based journalist who shares stories for web, radio and television. She joined CBC Edmonton in 2017. You can reach her at emily.rendell-watson@cbc.ca.

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