Three cannabis permits will be offered in the Southwest

A trio of cannabis retail permits will be issued by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), paving the way for private retail outlets to sell cannabis when the federal government legalizes the drug on July 1.

Two retail permits will be provided for Swift Current, while Maple Creek is the only other Southwest community to be on the initial list of 40 locations where a total of 60 permits will be issued. In making their announcement, SLGA said the initial allocation of retail store permits are all in centres with populations of at least 2,500.

Saskatchewan’s permits will be regulated by the SLGA, but municipalities will have the option to opt out of having a retail cannabis store in their community.

“The federal government has established very aggressive timelines for the legalization of cannabis,” Minister Responsible for SLGA Gene Makowsky said when unveiling the news on January 8. “Our government is being diligent to ensure the sale and regulation of cannabis in Saskatchewan strikes a balance between public safety and access for consumers. It’s also important to our government that the 40 municipalities and First Nations selected for retail locations have the opportunity to decide whether they want cannabis retail stores in their community.”

Under the details announced by the province, retailers will be required to establish a standalone storefront operation, with the option to also operate an online store. Regulations require that stores will be limited to selling cannabis, cannabis accessories and ancillary items.

“Stores must also have the ability to track and report cannabis inventory to help ensure consumers only have access to safe, legal product from regulated wholesalers,” the province announced.

The province will be engaging an independent third party to assist SLGA with selecting retail operators using a two-phase process. Phase one will be an initial screening of the financial capacity of applications, and the ability for proponents to track and report inventory. The second phase will involve a lottery among the qualified applicants, with successful proponents required to meet ‘good character’ criteria as part of the permitting process.

The specific details regarding application criteria, permit licensing fees, application timelines and other associated details will be finalized over the coming weeks. A decision on the minimum age for cannabis consumption will be made later this spring.

After an assessment of the launch of their retail strategy, the province may be allocating additional opportunities in a year to 18 months after legalization.

The opposition NDP argued that the vague details of their strategy announcement have left a lot of questions unanswered.

“The Sask. Party have left municipal and business leaders to wait, knowing they’ll have to scramble at the last minute. It’s irresponsible,” NDP Leader Nicole Sarauer stated in a press release. “The Sask. Party SLGA Minister made the announcement this week but, time and time again, neither he nor his officials were able to answer the questions being asked. The Sask. Party still won’t even say what age limit they’ll set for buying cannabis.”

She also argued there was no information provided on how communities could opt-out of the retail licence process, and their announced retail and wholesale model of delivery was too vague.

“The Minister provided few details about how the retail or wholesale businesses would work and wouldn’t even say whether or not wholesalers would have to be based in Saskatchewan,” Sarauer said. “SLGA has the experience and the infrastructure to responsibly and effectively handle, at least, the wholesale distribution, but the Sask. Party have rejected that opportunity and blocked our Crown Corporation from the obvious economic benefits.”

She also said municipalities are now on the hook for any additional costs associated with this strategy, all while the province will not be sharing an additional tax revenues with them.

“The Sask. Party’s delays and refusal to work with municipalities have consequences. Some cities have even been forced to cut or freeze policing budgets,” Sarauer added. “The Sask. Party must, at least, reverse their cuts to municipal funding. The provincial government will be collecting taxes from cannabis sales but all municipal leaders know is that their costs are going to go up and the Sask. Party is leaving them high and dry.”

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union was also disappointed with the government strategy which they argue passed on the revenues which would have been realized by having SLGA involved in the wholesaling and retailing process.

“We are the only province in Canada to make the private sector responsible for both wholesaling and retailing of the cannabis,” said Bob Stadnichuk, Chair of SGEU’s Retail/Regulatory Bargaining Committee. “Every other province understands that having some kind of public involvement in the pot business is a good thing for government revenues. This is money that can fund education and enforcement programs around cannabis use, in addition to other core public services.”

The SGEU also argues that the province has ignored their own online consultation process. While the budding cannabis business community has applauded the Sask Party’s announcement, opting for a private model for pot sales, the government consultation process revealed the 45 per cent of respondents favoured a government-run retailer, making it the most popular option by a wide margin.