Manitoba 'cautiously optimistic' it will be ready for July 1 cannabis legalization: minister

Despite word from the federal government Tuesday that provinces may need more time to prepare for pot legalization after the fact, Manitoba says so far, it appears to be on track.

CEO of Delta 9 Cannabis says Manitoba is 'ahead of the curve' on legalization

The federal government said jurisdictions may eight to 12 weeks to complete 'preparatory activities' after cannabis is legalized. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Despite word from the federal government Tuesday that provinces may need more time to prepare for pot legalization after the fact, Manitoba says so far, it appears to be on track.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told Senate Tuesday she's heard from lower levels of government they may need eight to 12 weeks for "preparatory activities" following the royal assent of legislation to legalize recreational cannabis.

That means the bill would have to be passed by the end of May in order for stores to open by the July 1 timeline the federal government had previously outlined. The legislation has to make its way through Senate before that can happen, and that could take a while.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has raised concerns in the past that the July 1 timeline may be too tight for provinces to get organized on legal cannabis.

"We're finally seeing acknowledgement in Ottawa that the established timeline for permitting the sale of recreational cannabis is tight," said Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen in a statement emailed to CBC News by a spokesperson.

But the minister said Manitoba, at least, seems to be on schedule despite the time pressure.

"While concerns have been raised about timing to secure necessary levels of supply, Manitoba is cautiously optimistic as our discussions to date indicate we are on track," the statement reads.

Manitoba 'ahead of the curve': producer

The Manitoba government announced in November it will introduce a "hybrid model" for cannabis sales. The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp. will secure and track supply but private retail stores will be in charge of selling it.

A request for proposals from the province for cannabis retailers closed on Dec. 22. More than 100 submissions came in from applicants vying for one of the four approvals the province said it would award.

The CEO of one of the applicants, Winnipeg's Delta 9 Cannabis, said he's not sure where Ottawa got the eight to 12 week window. Legal producers have been stockpiling product in anticipation of legalization for years, he said, and his company could transport product to a store in the city within a few hours.

"Operationally, that's an easy issue for us to sort out," Arbuthnot said.

"Whether, again, there are more complexities that are coming out here in terms of how this works from a legal standpoint, as we have a transitional period with laws at the federal and provincial level … remains to be seen."

'It literally smells like blueberry pie': Inside the medical marijuana grow-op at Delta 9

5 years ago
Duration 3:24
CBC's Sam Samson takes a look inside the medical cannabis growers as they prepare for legalization.

But Arbuthnot said there are still several "wrinkles" that need to be ironed out before stores can be fully functional — ranging from provincial distribution policies to online shopping regulations — and he's not surprised delays could be on the horizon.

"Certainly from what's been announced or what's come to light today, I don't foresee this as a major change," he said.

"It still seems to be the government's intent to have recreational cannabis legalized in 2018 and I think that's the major thing everyone needs to keep in mind here."

He said Manitoba is "ahead of the curve" when it comes to preparing for legalization.

"Our government has already laid out a timeline which would involves having stores open — licensed, fixtured, merchandised, et cetera and open for July 1. Conversely, other provinces are just in the process of announcing expressions of interest or really just on the forefront of formalizing their strategy for retail distribution," he said.

"So you know, we're already starting to see that there are certain provinces that are farther ahead than others."