New Brunswick is moving ahead with its plan to allow privately owned stores in the province, with the stated goals of expanding access and improving public health.
Finance Minister Ernie Steeves introduced legislation on Friday to update a number of the government’s rules, during a Standing Committee of Economic Policy meeting.
The changes mean that around 10 privately owned stores will be able to set up shop this year, with more expected to phase in after officials review how the program is doing.
Private stores will still operate under the province’s Cannabis NB banner, but sales commissions will go to them.
In the late spring or early summer, criteria for applicants will be released, Steeves says, which will be followed by a request-for-proposal process and then a licensing process.
Operators will pay an annual licensing fee of $1,750, and will have to completely cover start-up costs. There will be minimum requirements for employee education and training as well.
The Department of Justice and Public Safety will establish a licensing inspection and enforcement system, to keep pot out of the hands of youth in particular.
On the ground, Steeves confirmed the stores will look like smaller versions of Cannabis NB stores.
Farmgate stores will sell only their own products, he says, and will not go through the competitive application process.
Liberal MLA for Moncton Centre Robert McKee criticized the ruling Conservative government’s lack of consultation with Indigenous communities, asking Steeves if any consultation had been done related to private cannabis retail.
“As we already mentioned, we remain open to discussing opportunities with First Nations communities interested in retailing regulated cannabis product, and we would certainly examine that further at that time,” Steeves replied.
While the safety minister said the hybrid model of public and private stores can serve objectives of diminishing the illicit market, while generating an economic return for taxpayers, others questioned the government’s role in the market.
Kris Austin, People’s Alliance of New Brunswick MLA for Fredericton-Grand Lake, asked why provincial cannabis retail shouldn’t go fully private.
“The private sector is fully capable of delivering those products,” he said, advocating for government to play an oversight role only.
The meeting didn’t finish during Friday’s allotted timeframe, and is set to reconvene this week.
Read more: Cannabis NB sales dip 8% to $20.6M
After a rocky start, New Brunswick began a bidding process in November 2019, looking for a private owner to buy the Crown-owned cannabis retail monopoly.
But sales picked up, and the province halted the sale in March 2021.
On-site sales were introduced last August, and Crystal Cure opened Atlantic Canada’s first farmgate store in November.