Pubdate: Fri, 17 Nov 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Kelly Cryderman
Page: A7


Alberta will let the market reign when it comes to bricks-and-mortar
cannabis stores - allowing licensed private outlets to spring up
across the province, with the numbers and locations being determined
mainly by the owner-operators.

However, the Alberta government will also play a major part in the
legal recreational cannabis market as it will control and profit from
all legal online sales.

Alberta is even leaving the door open to having provincial workers
deliver the cannabis packages ordered through a government website,
instead of by Canada Post or another courier.

The government argues its proposed law satisfies both the province's
desire to bolster entrepreneurial activity - in a place where
consumers are long used to private alcohol sales - with what it says
is necessary government oversight of online sales to ensure customers'
ages are verified. With its main cannabis legislation introduced
Thursday, Alberta's NDP government says this hybrid system - different
from what has been proposed by other provinces so far - is a good balance.

"This is a major shift for our province and one that has had to be
made very quickly, with a lot of complex questions," said Alberta
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, speaking of the lead-up to Ottawa's
planned legalization of recreational cannabis next July.

Under the dual-track system proposed Thursday, Alberta government-run
online sales can begin as soon as recreational cannabis is legal.

Private entities will both profit from and bear the cost of setting up
physical retail spaces. From a political point of view, the policy
gives a nod to both the business and public-sector union
constituencies the NDP government needs to satisfy.

Ms. Ganley said the government decided to take control of website
sales specifically because of Albertans' fears that cannabis bought
online would end up in the hands of youth. "One thing we heard loud
and clear from Albertans is that they're still a little bit concerned
about the online age verification process. So by handing that by way
of the government, I think that gives the ability to control that in a
way that can allay those fears."

Ms. Ganley said the province could potentially be competing with
private, storefront retailers for cannabis sales. But the minister
also said a lot of business will flow to bricks-and-mortar stores. She
said that, especially in the first few years as the legal market is
established, the costs to the provincial government - in terms of
areas such as policing, education and health care - will exceed any
revenues it will take in. The province does not yet have a forecast
for revenues from online sales.

Alberta's legislation, if passed, will set the legal consumption age
at 18 - as expected, the same as the drinking age - and would
establish provincial offences for any youth possessing even small
amounts of cannabis. It sets restrictions on where marijuana can be
smoked or vaped.

The legislation would ban the sale of cannabis in the same location as
alcohol, pharmaceuticals or tobacco. The bill would also give the
Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission the mandate to oversee
distribution and enforcement. It is still unclear which government
entity will control the online sales.

More details about the licensing process and requirements will come
early in 2018. But owner-operators will face criminal record checks.
As retailers seek to locate their stores, they will face minimum
setback distances from schools. Owner-operators will be able to set
their own prices, and will be able to sell cannabis and cannabis
accessories, but not other items (officials noted they couldn't, for
instance, sell bags of chips).

Ottawa has said it will legalize recreational cannabis by next summer
but is leaving the specific implementation plans to individual
provinces - creating a patchwork of policies and sales systems across
the country. Ontario and Quebec will keep government control of all
legal cannabis sales. Manitoba appears to be the only province, so
far, to say it will allow private online sales. Quebec said no to any
homegrown pot plants as it introduced legislation Thursday, while
Alberta said it will follow the federal guideline of allowing up to
four plants a household.
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