Manitoba aims to boost number of cannabis stores in province

Manitoba wants to make it as convenient as possible for people to buy pot once marijuana is legalized, so the provincial government is taking steps to boost the number of stores.

Meanwhile, OCN-National Access deal targets 100 retail stores in Western Canada

The provincial government wants 90 per cent of Manitobans to be able to access legal cannabis within a 30-minute drive or less within two years of legalization. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Manitoba wants to make it as convenient as possible for people to buy pot once marijuana is legalized, so the provincial government is taking steps to boost the number of stores.

Blaine Pedersen, minister of growth, enterprise and trade, announced Monday the government has issued a request for pre-qualifications to expand opportunities for retail cannabis stores.

"To help eliminate the black market, our goal within two years of legalization is for 90 per cent of Manitobans to be able to access legal cannabis within a 30-minute drive or less," said Pedersen.

"Ensuring public health and safety remains our top priority. We believe cannabis sourced from federally licensed producers and sold by provincially licensed and regulated retailers will better protect the health and safety of Manitobans."

Following an initial public tender that concluded earlier this year, the province selected four proponents that will operate more than 30 retail cannabis locations.

Pedersen noted this next RFPQ — available on the public tenders website with submissions accepted until Aug. 31 — will help expand the initial number of retail cannabis stores to more communities in Manitoba.

"In proceeding with Phase 2 of our retail strategy, we are keeping our promise to establish a competitive retail environment that creates new economic opportunities for all Manitobans," he said.

The RFPQ seeks to establish a pre-qualification list of respondents capable of operating a retail cannabis store in a community that may be under-serviced after the first phase of the retail market is established.

Retailers who submitted proposals to the initial public tender will be eligible for consideration on this list.

Indigenous business participation is encouraged in the RFPQ, Pedersen said.

"Unlike other jurisdictions in Canada, Manitoba's hybrid model promotes opportunities for Indigenous participation in the retail of recreational cannabis," he said.

"With Indigenous partnerships in all four of our initial retail groups, this next phase is another positive opportunity for Indigenous economic development and success in Manitoba." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in June that Canadians would be able to consume marijuana recreationally without criminal penalties starting on Oct. 17, 2018 — many months later than the government's initial target date.

That first date was supposed to be July 1 but the federal government pushed the date back to give provinces more time to be ready.

While the federal government is the one legalizing marijuana, the provinces and territories are responsible for licensing and overseeing its distribution and sale.

OCN funds stores in Western Canada

Meanwhile, Manitoba's Opaskwayak Cree Nation is getting more involved in the retail end of cannabis as well.

It has entered into a $35 million debt-financing deal with National Access Cannabis Corp., which will enable the company to build 50-70 retail stores in Western Canada under the Meta Cannabis Supply Co. brand.

Some Meta stores are already being built in Manitoba.

"It is imperative that NAC has a strong retail footprint established and fully operational by October 17. Our shareholder, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, understands the importance of this timeline and have supported us by extending the capital necessary to start immediate build-out," said Mark Goliger, CEO of National Access Cannabis.

The money will allow NAC to build up to 100 locations over time, with an initial target of 50 to 70 stores under development or operational in 2018, he added.

At the same time, it allows OCN to grow its footprint in the industry, a news release stated.

"We believe that this financing allows NAC to take advantage of another pivotal moment and build a dominant footprint of retail operations. We strongly believe that this investment will benefit the company and its shareholders," said OCN Chief Christian Sinclair.