Local entrepreneurs feel slighted by cannabis retail process

Marijuana. Pixabay

With hundreds of businesses and individuals applying for the right to open a cannabis retail store in Saskatchewan, for every successful applicant Friday there were dozens more faced with disappointment.

Applying for the permits was not an inexpensive process, leading to at least one applicant to question the entire procedure.

“The cannabis license lottery and the way 101 people in Prince Albert alone have been snookered by the Saskatchewan Government to the tune of $350,000 is shameful,” said Cliff Hlewka in an email to the Daily Herald.

“First, we were led to believe that only Prince Albert residents and or business owners would be in the lottery for the two available licenses. Second, we were made aware of the $1,000 holdback if we were not picked.”

Every entity that applied for a permit had to pay a $1,000 non-refundable application fee. Those selected in the lottery then had to pay application fees.

“This lottery issue and the skimming of $3500 from our application fee is just plain dishonest,” Hlewka continued.

“I can’t express my anger and frustration loudly enough. We put a great deal of effort into this only to end up feeling like we were taken for a ride. Hopefully, city council will shake things up and make the price of a license to non-residents prohibitive.”

As of press time, Hlewka did not respond to a request for further comment. City officials weren’t available for comment. The Herald also put in a request to the SLGA, which oversaw the process, for comment. While they supplied audio from a media scrum in Regina, the Crown Corporation did not provide an avenue for questions from the Daily Herald to be answered.

In his media scrum comments, Makowsky did not address the issue of out-of-city retail applicants specifically, however he did respond to a question about out-of-province applicants receiving some of the 51 available permits.

Makowsky indicated the province couldn’t discriminate against out-of-province entities due to free trade legislation.

Saskatchewan, unlike some other provinces, is allowing private entities to carry out cannabis retail. Ontario and other provinces are instead selling legal marijuana through government-owned stores, similar to the province’s government-owned liquor board stores.

As the province is allowing private retailers to sell cannabis through a provincially-licensed process, a call for permits was sent out through Request for Proposals (RFPs) on the SaskTenders website.

Through the province’s signature on the Canada Free Trade Agreement and the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, certain RFPs must be open to businesses and individuals from across Canada.

The agreements, though, do have a minimum dollar threshold as to when the open competition applies. Tenders below that amount do not have to be open to out-of-province bidders.

The thresholds are at the $25,000 mark for goods, $100,000 for services and $100,000 for construction. It’s unclear where or how the cannabis RFPs fit into the legislation.

The agreements do, however, require that provinces not require an enterprise to maintain an office or reside in its territory as a condition for carrying on business activities. The only exemption appears to be when a party maintains, designs or regulates a monopoly.