'Private' Cannabis N.B. stores coming to province to combat black market
Finance minister introduces legislation that would allow the agency to expand its model
New Brunswickers will soon have a wider range of outlet options for purchasing cannabis products.
Finance Minister Ernie Steeves introduced legislation Tuesday that will allow Cannabis N.B. to expand its model through private retail stores and direct-from-producer farmgate operations.
Currently, small producers sell their products through Cannabis N.B. and licensed retailers in other jurisdictions.
Steeves has proposed amending the existing Cannabis Management Corporation Act and establishing a new cannabis retailers licensing act, noting that the move will bolster Cannabis N.B. against competition from the black market.
The new legislation and amendments, which were made in collaboration with Cannabis N.B., "will provide additional protections and safeguards" and allow the agency to "combat the higher number of illegal operations," Steeves said.
The new outlets will be "like a mini Cannabis N.B. store," Steeves later explained to reporters.
"So it's an agency location, and it'll just be a small version of what we have already.
"It won't be in corner stores, it won't be [in] gas stations or anything like that. It will be a standalone store, and it'll be a mini version of what we have right now."
Some illegal pot contained mouse droppings: Steeves
The new legislation and expanded retail model would also help ensure that customers get what they're paying for, and not less — or more.
"We just did a test on some of the marijuana, [and] we found out there are some unpleasant items" in there, Steeves said.
"One of the samples we got had mouse feces in it."
He also called out illegally sold edibles such as gummies, which he said had been found in some cases to contain less THC than they claimed.
"We found that they were announcing … 15 milligrams" of THC, he said, when in fact "there was probably like seven or eight there."
Illegal dispensaries an ongoing complaint
Cannabis N.B. has long complained about the ongoing saturation of the market by illegal dispensaries.
Two years ago, in November 2019, then-CEO Patrick Parent told the legislature that the sheer volume of black-market cannabis sales was making it hard for the government-owned legal retailer to dominate the market and make money.
Cannabis N.B. struggled initially to turn a profit, but has since turned a corner, adjusted prices and posted record sales and profits.
It has also stressed that the products pose a potential health risk. Products that come from illegal companies are not tested or regulated and there is no oversight of their production.
On Tuesday, Cannabis N.B. and Alcool N.B. Liquor spokesperson Thomas Tremblay said that illicit cannabis sales data was not readily available or reliable.
"However, anecdotally, we have received a great number of consumers who have shifted from the illicit market to Cannabis NB because of the regulated and safety standards of our products," Tremblay said in an email.
Tremblay echoed Steeves's earlier statement that the province and the agency had worked in collaboration to develop the expanded sales model as the industry evolves.
"We are excited about future opportunities for the cannabis industry in New Brunswick, and looking forward to determining the best way forward to ensure education and access to safe regulated products to consumers," he said.
With files from Jacques Poitras