Pubdate: Tue, 28 Nov 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Gillian Steward
Page: A15


So far it looks like Alberta will be the go-to province for marijuana
entrepreneurs lining up to get in on the action when selling pot
becomes legal next summer.

Unlike Ontario and Quebec, Alberta has taken a free market approach.
Recreational marijuana will be sold in privately owned retail stores
and there could be a lot of them because at this point there is no
limit on the number.

No drab stores run by liquor control boards for Alberta. And there
will surely be way more stores than the 15 Quebec has designated for
the entire province (Ontario is planning 40) in the first year of

Online sales in Alberta, however, will be a government-run,
union-staffed enterprise. And the government will be the exclusive
marijuana wholesaler.

Alberta is taking its cues from Colorado, where marijuana has been
legal since 2014 and is sold in privately owned retail outlets where
the ambience ranges from homey hippie to upscale minimalism.

Could Alberta become the head office capital of the marijuana industry
in Canada?

Alison McMahon, CEO and founder of Cannabis at Work, thinks

"From a business opportunity perspective, I think there is going to be
a lot of attention given to Alberta from licensed producers and the
cannabis market because we are seeing a lot of demand from this
province," she told CBC. Her head-hunting company helps both employers
and prospective employees find each other.

There are several reasons for this business optimism. First, Alberta
is right next to B.C., which has long been known for its quality,
although usually remote, marijuana fields. Also, Alberta has the
second-highest number of medical marijuana users of all the provinces.
Ontario is first but Alberta is a close second despite having a third
of Ontario's population.

According to Health Canada, about 200,000 clients were registered to
receive medical marijuana in the first quarter of this year. About
86,000 were in Ontario and 74,000 were in Alberta. That would seem to
indicate Alberta has more medical marijuana users per capita than
anywhere else in Canada.

If Colorado's experience is anything to go by, many of those medical
marijuana users will switch to outlets selling recreational dope.

And if conversations with friends and acquaintances are anything to go
by, all sorts of people are using medical marijuana to treat achy
backs, insomnia or migraine headaches. Not surprisingly, it sometimes
also gets used for recreational purposes, especially if it is being

It's not just young people who are into marijuana these days. A lot of
baby boomers are still toking or looking forward to having access to
safe supplies.

The Alberta and Canadian marijuana markets are considered such a gold
mine that top law enforcement officials who used to be in charge of
the war on drugs are now offering their expertise to this burgeoning

None other than Alberta's former justice minister Jonathan Denis and
Calgary's former police chief Rick Hanson have joined the
Calgary-based Canadian Cannabis Chamber, which promotes the legal
recreational marijuana industry and provides legal, lobbying and
security advice.

Even Denis admits that when he was trying to snuff out marijuana
grow-ops as justice minister, he never could have imagined that one
day he would be promoting them.

The Alberta government insists that it is not expecting to collect a
lot of revenue from the weed business. It wants to keep prices
competitive and taxes low (no sales tax in Alberta) so the black
marketers will be pushed out of business.

But it also wants more of the tax revenue than Ottawa is

The proposed federal framework calls for marijuana to be taxed at a $1
a gram or 10 per cent of the retail price, whichever is higher, with
revenues evenly split between the federal government and the provinces
and territories.

"I am not sure what the federal government is smoking but I can tell
you that is not going to work for Alberta," Alberta Finance Minister
Joe Ceci told reporters in October.

Since the provinces will be responsible for implementation, regulation
and enforcement they should get most of the tax revenue, Ceci added.

Unlike other tax squabbles, this one is likely to spark quite a few

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Gillian Steward is a Calgary writer and former managing editor of the 
Calgary Herald. Her column appears every other week.
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