Where will you buy legal pot in Saskatchewan?

Saskatchewan's marijuana future is still a little cloudy. While the federal government has mandated that recreational marijuana will be legal by July 1, 2018, there's been pushback from the province.

Pharmacies or liquor stores? Independent shops or convenience stores? Where will legal pot be sold in Sask.?

Pat Warnecke at BBS, a marijuana dispensary in Saskatoon. (Chanss Lagaden / CBC)

Mail order or store front? Liquor stores, pharmacies or small independent dispensaries?

We still don't know how exactly Saskatchewan will decide to retail legal pot. 

One industry insider says the nuts and bolts of a flourishing industry already exist and there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

"We want to legitimise the industry as it's already in place here in Canada. We want to legitimise it. We are hoping they will regulate and license so that we can have reputable shops and reputable people in the industry and not having fly-by-night operations starting up," said Pat Warnecke, who runs two medical marijuana dispensaries — BBS in Saskatoon and Better Buds Society in Regina. 

Future still uncertain

Saskatchewan's marijuana future is still a little hazy. While the federal government has mandated that recreational marijuana will be legal by July 1, 2018, there's been pushback from the province. This week Premier Brad Wall joined calls to delay that date. 

The provincial government has a working group that "will consider the various aspects of the federal legislation, such as the implementation of necessary provincial legislation and regulations, and the creation of an effective model for distribution and taxation," according a written statement provided this week.

But there are no timelines regarding when and how the province will announce its plans to regulate and sell pot. 

Feds laid out options 

The federal government's task force on legal pot that was released earlier this year did lay out some options. 

It said some people surveyed preferred a centralized, government monopoly — the way the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority currently regulates alcohol sales. The SLGA could become a wholesaler, seller or simply a regulator. 

Others prefer "a private-enterprise model" where pot-specific stores would sell legal marijuana from a storefront. 

Count Warnecke among that second group.

Pat Warnecke speaks with a client at BBS in Saskatoon. (Chanss Lagaden / CBC)

He says if liquor stores are responsible for selling it, a large section of marijuana users would be alienated. 

"I think keeping it separate would be the obvious choice. It's worked in every place in the US and every place in Canada that has embraced cannabis it seems to be the way it's working. The private sales, the private stores," he said. 

Of course, that might not happen.

Ontario, Manitoba and B.C are all floating the idea that pot be sold in liquor stores — public sector unions say their members should be the ones selling pot. 

Even before legal pot was announced, however, Premier Wall said Saskatchewan is not thinking about selling it in provincial liquor stores.

That, of course, was before legal weed became a impending reality. 

BBS in Saskatoon sells a variety of medical marijuana products. (Chanss Lagaden / CBC)

Then there's the idea of pharmacies wanting in on marijuana sales. Shoppers Drug Mart and PharmaChoice have both announced their intention to get into the medical marijuana market. There is so far no firm indication, however, that big drug stores or even smaller family pharmacies want to sell recreational marijuana. 

U.S states mostly have independent store model

Colorado and other U.S states that have legalized recreational marijuana have mostly opted for the route of private, regulated store fronts.

Some of them, like Oregon, already have an extensive network of medical marijuana dispensaries in place — legal recreational use just meant a new kind of license that would allow those dispensaries to sell to anyone over a certain age. 

Warnecke says a similar system should be set up here. There are, after all, already dispensaries that are providing access to cannabis for medical patients. All it would take, he says, would be to regulate and tax those businesses. 

"The amount of people that people that are already in the cannabis industry illegally that would convert and would be coming to legal industry and paying taxes and so on would be well worth it," he said.

Not only is there a market for retail, but production as well, he said. Given this province's climate and potash production, he says, Saskatchewan could be a powerhouse marijuana producer.

The worst case scenario, according to Warnecke, is if Saskatchewan gets left behind and the government is out of step with the rest of the country. 

"We're hoping they do it right and the do it right in the first place. That they promote cannabis in Saskatchewan and don't chase us out of the province," he said.

Wall and his government say they are working to meet the deadline mandated by the feds. But Wall is in favour of delaying the entire thing, citing concerns over things like marijuana-impaired driving. 

In the written statement, the government said it "continues to review the proposed legislation to identify areas of concern and potential options and solutions to address those concerns, within the tight timelines provided."

Warnecke says the government and politicians are "fear mongering."  He is urging what he describes as "common-sense approach" to marijuana legalization. 

He says so far that's not happening. 

"Right now it's looking pretty abysmal," he said. 


Charles Hamilton is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.