Open for business: Manitoba cannabis retailers say stores will be ready for legalization day

With less than a month until recreational cannabis is legal, retailers in Manitoba are getting locations ready to market marijuana — but regulatory approvals and site preparations are still underway.

Several locations across the province expected to be open on Oct. 17, but retailers can't say where yet

While two of the province's authorized cannabis retailers say they will have stores ready to open on the day recreational cannabis becomes legal, another retailer says it won't be able to open a store by Oct. 17. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

At least four, and perhaps more, stores should be open and selling marijuana in Manitoba on the day recreational cannabis becomes legal in Canada — but the companies planning to open them can't yet say exactly where they'll be.

The province has entered into agreements with selected cannabis retailers to open 10 stores and more are in the works.

The agreements are just part of the legislative and regulatory hurdles the marijuana merchandisers must climb before opening their doors to customers when cannabis becomes legal on Oct. 17.

Retailers are also in the midst of making locations ready for customers, but can't disclose where exactly those locations are until licensing requirements are completed.

Delta 9 Cannabis hopes to have at least one store ready to open next month, while National Access Cannabis says it is counting on having three locations up and running.

A third group says it won't make the legalization date and plans to open stores later in the year.

​In February, the Province of Manitoba announced four private companies or consortiums which are conditionally allowed to operate recreational cannabis retail locations. A recent merger has dropped that number down to three.

'It's going to be quite the scene'

Spokesperson Gary Symons says Delta 9 is on the cusp of being ready to go.

"I can't be 100 per cent certain, but on our timeline we are geared up to have retail stores, or at least one store, open on Oct. 17 and our online will be up and running as well," Symons said.

He says the company is in the midst of working with various provincial entities on site-specific licences and permits and should be able to provide more details on locations next week.

The Delta 9 spokesperson expects Oct. 17 to be a busy day for most of the competitors in the cannabis market.

"I think you are going to see a number of stores open in Manitoba on Day 1 and I think those stores are going to be unbelievably busy as … curiosity and pent-up demand is going to drive a lot of people to those stores,"  Symons said.

"I think it's going to be quite the scene."

Delta 9 is in partnership with Canopy Growth to produce cannabis, but is in competition with them to retail the product.

A Delta 9 spokesperson says the company could identify its store locations as early as next week. (CNW Group/Delta 9 Cannabis Inc.)

And the company appears not to be alone in expecting to be retail-ready on legalization day.

National Access Cannabis put out a press release this week saying it intends to have three retail stores open in Winnipeg by Oct. 17 under its Meta Cannabis Supply Co. brand, and also plans to be able to supply cannabis online by the date of legalization.

"We still have building to do. We still have permits that we need. We still need our licences," spokesperson Matt Ryan told CBC News.

Ryan, who is the vice-president of marketing for National Access Cannabis, says the company can't disclose the bricks and mortar locations until the ink is dry for all of its regulatory requirements.

"There are locations under construction. There is signage that is going to be going up. But we are respecting the process and we will do that when it's all fine by everybody," Ryan said.

Repeated calls and emails to Canopy Growth regarding their plans for stores in Manitoba were not returned.

Long list of requirements for retailers

A retailer that has received preliminary approval from the province to sell cannabis still faces a long list of requirements before the doors open and the pot can be sold.

A final licence to sell legal marijuana will ultimately be issued by the province's Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority.

But before their application is complete, the retailer must get approvals from two other sources.

The regulations for cannabis sales require agreements between the retailer and the department of Growth, Enterprise and Trade, as well as Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, before the authority will issue a licence.

Elizabeth Stephenson, chief administrative officer of the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba, says the focus for retailers shouldn't just be on the Oct. 17 legalization date. (Travis Golby/CBC)

An application also must include municipal approval before a licence is granted. Municipal requirements for retailers include a business licence and an occupancy permit.

The chief administrative officer for the LGCA says the authority has received some applications but hasn't issued any licences as yet.

Elizabeth Stephenson says she can't imagine why there wouldn't be completed licence applications and open stores on Oct. 17, but acknowledges there are many factors that come into play during the process.

"There a lot of people working very hard to be open on the 17th but we will just have to see what happens," Stephenson told CBC News.

She says the industry is new, but the focus shouldn't just be on the day cannabis is legal.

"It's not just about opening on the 17th of October but over the next six to 12 months. It's not a one-time event."

Not ready yet

At least one retailer acknowledges it won't make the Oct. 17 market opening.

A spokesperson for the consortium of Avana Canada, Fisher River Cree Nation, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and Native Roots Dispensary says the group — now called Garden Variety — has an option to open up to 20 retail locations in Manitoba, but won't get its first stores ready until later this year.

"We are not going to be ready to open our doors just yet.… We don't want to rush, we want to do it right," said Kim Casey of Garden Variety.

"Mistakes were made in the past and we don't want to replicate those."

Retailers face a host of licensing and business requirements with the province and the cannabis regulator before their doors can open for customers. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Casey says the consortium is leaning heavily on its Native Roots partner and the company's years of experience in the Colorado cannabis market to inform how it launches in Manitoba.

The company has plans to open two stores in Winnipeg, and one each in Brandon and Thompson, in 2018 or early 2019.

Casey says the group is working with provincial officials on the licences and has chosen the first four locations, though lease agreements have yet to be signed.

Manitoba's approved retailers

Manitoba approved four companies for retail in the province:

  • Delta 9 Cannabis Inc. and Canopy Growth Corporation are in partnership and will provide product to each other's retail locations.
  • National Access Cannabis has partnered with several Manitoba First Nations, including Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Long Plain First Nation, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Peguis First Nation.
  • Garden Variety is a consortium that involves Avana Canada Inc. of Ontario, Fisher River Cree Nation of Manitoba, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation of Ontario, MediPharm Labs of Ontario, and U.S.-based retailer Native Roots Dispensary.
  • Tokyo Smoke, a subsidiary of Hiku Brands, which is also owned by Canopy Growth.

The latter two companies successfully won a slot in the province's cannabis business in partnership with Brandon-based B.O.B. HQ.


Sean Kavanagh

Former CBC reporter

Sean Kavanagh was a reporter for CBC Manitoba from 2003-21. He covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections.