One year of cannabiz in Edmonton

One year ago cannabis became legal in Canada.

The decision to legalize cannabis was a long time coming, but that didn’t mean preparing for it was a simple process for the City of Edmonton.

There were a lot of questions and fears about cannabis use. Would crime go up? Where should people be allowed to smoke? How would police enforce impaired driving laws? Where would the City allow cannabis stores to be located?

Nothing was clear. No answers were easy. Decisions needed to be made quickly.

One key decision was how the City would best help a brand new industry, cannabis retail shops, get off the ground. We knew there would be an initial rush of people and businesses interested in opening up shop, but how could the City ensure the process of handing out business licences and development permits was handled as fairly as possible?

We reached out.

After speaking to representatives from Colorado and Seattle about their experiences with legalizing cannabis, the City chose a random selection draw for development permits, according to Calvin Chan from the Cannabis Task Team.

“We decided that a random selection draw would give everyone a somewhat equal opportunity to be drawn first and that no group would have an advantage over any other,” Chan said.

“Additionally, we felt that if we just did a first-come, first-served intake process, we would be overwhelmed. A random selection draw also gave us the opportunity to handle applications in an orderly and timely manner.”

The City then reviewed applications in the order drawn, and granted development permits as quickly as possible. Many other important factors were at play, including whether proposed locations fit City Council’s guidelines regarding distance from schools and other cannabis shops.

The goal was to have at least one store open on legalization day. As it turned out, Edmonton had six, the highest number of stores in Canada. Chan estimated about 40 per cent of the current retailers in Edmonton are single-location stores. The other 60 per cent belong to larger, multi-location companies.

Here’s how the lottery process unfolded for Karl Karanjia, owner of Strainbows Cannabis.

Karanjia said he and another retailer applied for development permits on the same location near Whitemud Drive. The other retailer’s name was drawn first. Karanjia missed out on that location because his name was drawn 223rd, or so. With guidance from City Hall, he received a development permit for a retail cannabis location on 124 St, which ended. Karanjia was disappointed he didn’t get his first-choice location, but thanked the City for its help and guidance, and for levelling “the playing field for Edmontonians trying to get into a market with massive players.”

As of October 16, there were 48 operators in Edmonton approved to sell cannabis by Alberta Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis (AGLC), with more stores to open in the future.

“Given the delays we saw in other jurisdictions, the City of Edmonton did extremely well by comparison in licensing the emerging business of cannabis retail locations for applicants,” said Bruce Hertz, the Project Manager for Cannabis Task Team.

“While there were some initial hurdles, we’ve also received positive feedback on how we’ve managed the introduction to this new industry and legal product.”

Here is Karl Karanjia’s take:

“Everyone I dealt with understood that I never had experience opening or designing a retail outlet and they all helped with processes and bylaws that had to be met. If you follow the rules and guidelines, the people working for the City actually go out of their way to help you understand what you need to do to be successful and I was so grateful for the help.”

Next up: edibles

October 17, 2019, means cannabis edibles are legalized in Canada. This means producers can start making edibles for market, which will be sold through existing retailers. The City will continue working with retailers to ensure they are receiving the support and advice they need.

When the City first licensed cannabis retail stores, it made allowances for the anticipated sale of these new cannabis products under the same development permit and business licence.

It is anticipated that Health Canada will need approximately 60 days or more to process applications from licenced manufacturers wishing to produce and distribute cannabis edibles, extracts and topical products. Under this timeframe, these products may not be available in Edmonton until mid-December 2019 or early in the new year.

We thank Edmontonians for their responsible use of cannabis.