1,502 submissions received for Sask.'s 51 available cannabis retail permits

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority received 1,502 applications from prospective cannabis retailers.

51 successful applicants will be chosen through vetting process followed by lottery

In Regina, there were 169 applications for six available permits. In Saskatoon, 177 applications were submitted for seven total permits. There were 107 applications for Moose Jaw's two available permits. (Laura Meader/CBC)

More than 1,500 applicants are competing to sell weed to customers in Saskatchewan.

But only 51 permits are available.

"We took a cautious approach, a reasonable approach," said Gene Makowsky, the minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

In Saskatchewan, cannabis will be sold by private retailers once it's legalized for recreational use — a move that's expected to come later this year. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority will issue the 51 permits for retailers around the province.

In Regina, there were 169 applications for six available permits. In Saskatoon, 177 applications were submitted for seven total permits. There were 107 applications for Moose Jaw's two available permits.

The number of applicants shows a significant interest in the industry, Makowsky said.

He said the retail market is still unknown, and there is the possibility more permits could be issued later.

Gene Makowsky, the minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, said there's an obvious interest in selling pot in Saskatchewan, but the market for legalized cannabis is unknown. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

"We'll take a look at it and then if necessary issue other permits in the same centres and maybe in smaller centres."

As of the April 10 deadline, 1,502 applications for pot retail permits were submitted to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority. 

A $1,000 non-refundable fee was required for each submission, bringing more than $1.5 million in for the government.   

NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer said it's "prudent" the province limit permits, but argued 51 is not enough. She pointed to retail cannabis success in other jurisdictions as well as the retail shops that operated illegally in Regina and "were thriving." 

"Frankly, the retail numbers that they put forward aren't going to be enough," she said. "There is a huge concern that the black market is going to continue to thrive."

NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer said prospective business owners are being left in the dark by the retail permit approval process. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

Hopeful applicants will be vetted based on criteria such as good character, finances and operational ability.Those who aren't disqualified will be entered into a random lottery system for the 51 permits.

"There's an independent third party that will be part of the entire process to make sure it's done transparently," Makowsky said.

Saskatchewan-based retailers will not be given preference over out-of-province applicants. The government would not say how many applicants were local. 

The government expects to announce successful permittees in the coming weeks, prior to federal legalization.

But Sarauer said that's not soon enough. 

"Prospective business owners are left in the dark as to whether or not they've been successful," in their applications, she said.

The government says permits for retailers will be issued for up to three years, with annual fees payable up front or in yearly instalments. (Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

"These businesses need to be able to get their infrastructure started, their employees hired, their spaces leased."

Sarauer said local business owners have expressed worry about the fairness and transparency of the vetting process.

Wholesale hopefuls can apply

On Friday, the liquor and gaming authority said applications are also open for people who want to wholesale cannabis in Saskatchewan. 

The government said wholesalers must physically operate within the province and will sell to retailers, rather than the public.

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority received 1,502 submissions for cannabis retail permits, but only 51 retail cannabis permits will be granted. (Government of Saskatchewan)

The fee for a wholesale permit is $5,000, including a $2,000 non-refundable application fee and a $3,000 annual permit fee. 

Furthermore, the registration fee for federally licensed producers is $2,000, including a $500 non-refundable application fee and a $1,500 annual permit fee. 

The province said there is no limit to the number of wholesale permits nor is there a deadline to apply.

The government says permits for cannabis retailers will be issued for up to three years, with fees payable upfront or in yearly instalments. 

They will be renewed as long as the business complies with all laws and requirements.