Getting cannabis licences a 'gruelling' process for Alberta retailers
Prospective retailers undergo background checks, pay thousands in upfront costs — then wait
If everything goes according to plan, Daryl Robinson will open his first retail cannabis store in Edmonton this summer.
Herbal Headquarters will sell a variety of cannabis products for treating pain. Robinson said his store on 124th Street and 103rd Avenue will be the first of five he expects to open within the next year in Alberta, if the federal government legalizes cannabis by the end of the summer.
First, he has to finish a lengthy cannabis licensing process with the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
"Basically, the process was pretty gruelling," Robinson said. "I expected it to be a little extensive and invasive, I just didn't realize how invasive it was going to be."
AGLC receives hundreds of applicants
Robinson's application for a cannabis licence is one of more than 480 applications received by the AGLC since March 6. The AGLC is responsible for the oversight and all distribution of cannabis to retailers, so anyone who wants to open a store in Alberta that sells cannabis products must get a licence with them.
The process includes completing a 70-page application form. The province then charges a $400 fee for each store location, a $700 annual licence fee, and a $3,000 deposit for background checks.
"Each application takes anywhere from two to four months just for the background checks alone," said Heather Holmen, AGLC spokesperson.
"There's certainly going to be quite a bit more background work that's done to ensure there's integrity in the sector ... and those that are involved in the cannabis retail sector are strong representatives and don't compromise the credibility of it."
An application for a Class D liquor licence — the kind needed to open a liquor store — also includes a background check. Applicants have to fill out a 26-page form and pay a $200 fee and an additional $700 fee per licence certificate. Applications take about three weeks to be reviewed.
Successful cannabis licence applicants will not receive their licence until legalization happens, Holmen said. Provincial licences will not be issued until a business has a licence and development permit from their municipality.
In Edmonton, council still needs to amend the zoning bylaw. If council approves the bylaw changes, the city will begin accepting expression of interest applications from prospective retailers in mid-May. The city expects to begin issuing conditional licences in June, allowing time for retailers to renovate stores and hire and train staff.
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Business licences for cannabis retailers will not be valid until cannabis is legalized, and the cost of one could be as high as $2,500 a year — that's 10 times more than a liquor store. This is on top of a one-time $5,600 development permit fee, meaning retailers will need to pay the city $8,100 up front.
Finally, anyone working in a retail cannabis store will need to take the AGLC's online SellSafe Cannabis Staff Training program. Once they complete the program, they have to apply with the AGLC to become a qualified cannabis worker. The program echoes ProServe, an AGLC online program all hospitality staff in Alberta must complete before serving or preparing alcohol.
There's certainly going to be quite a bit more background work that's done to ensure there's integrity in the sector.- Heather Holmen, AGLC
Robinson said the lengthy process will be worth it. He credits cannabis with helping him recover from cancer almost 20 years ago, but at the time he felt like it was a taboo topic. He wants others with medical issues to have access to something he found beneficial.
"That's how I'm kind of at where I am today," he said. "I could talk about the health supplements, the raw vitamins and herbs I was taking, antioxidants, but I could never talk about how I was using my own oils and my own edibles for pain."
Robinson said he intends to go to city council on May 7. That's when council will present the zoning bylaw changes to accommodate cannabis stores.
"We have an Alberta Gaming and Liquor agent that is assigned to our case and they're going to help us through the zoning and restrictions with the city," he said.
"That is the next and final step."