The province has selected the two retailers who will be permitted to open up pot shops in P.A. once the federal government legalizes marijuana, and both are entrepreneurs based out of Saskatoon.
The winners of the lottery for cannabis retail permits were announced by the provincial government Friday. Hundreds of companies applied for each of the 51 permits up for grabs. Companies that showed they had the financial and tracking capabilities set out by the province were entered into a random draw. The process was overseen by KPMG, an independent third party.
Successful bidders include the likes of large, established medical marijuana distributors such as Tweed Grasslands, Investment companies owned by Saskatchewan First Nations (both Synergy Five Investments and Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs won permits in the draw) and independent business operators.
Now that the companies have been selected, they will have to go through a character test, including whether their owners have an existing criminal record, before they are allowed to set up shop in Saskatchewan. Should they fail, a runner up who has been chosen, but not yet notified, will be contacted to begin the permitting process.
Prince Albert will be allowed two cannabis retailers once legalization occurs later this year. The winning companies are Prairie Cannabis Ltd., led by Jim Southam, a Saskatoon Entrepreneur, and 102004012 Saskatchewan Ltd., led by Lawyer Ivan Bergerman of Bergerman Smith LLP.
While Southam’s background is unclear, a man by the name of Jim Southam does come up in Saskatoon City Council documents connected with a store selling smoking implements, such as bongs, in the City of Bridges.
Bergerman, meanwhile, is an accomplished corporate lawyer. He has financed businesses and who has experience working in natural resource law, as well as hydroelectric and wind power.
Applications for retail cannabis stores weren’t restricted to just Saskatchewan. While more than two-thirds of successful applicants are either from Saskatchewan or have operations in the province, the remainder don’t, and hail from B.C., Alberta and Ontario.
During a media scrum held Friday, Gene Makowsky, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, was pressed on the geographic location of many of the chosen retail operators.
“I would argue that money will flow in from out of province as they set up business here,” he said.
“We have trade obligations. If there was another province that wouldn’t allow our entrepreneurs into that market, that would be an issue.”
Reporters continued to press Makowsky, pointing out that in other markets, including Ontario, cannabis retail will be conducted by the government, so Saskatchewan entrepreneurs wouldn’t be allowed access.
He stood his ground.
‘We have the ability to go outside to some of the provinces. We believe in open and free markets, and we have a lot of Saskatchewan entrepreneurs in this initial process and First Nations as well. It was a random draw, and that’s how it worked out. If we did disallow anyone from out of Saskatchewan we would face a trade situation.”
Makowsky added that there may be future opportunities for Saskatchewan retailers to get involved, especially if demand dictates more permits be handed out.
He stressed that any irregularities – such as one company receiving permits in more than one market, or a situation where a husband and wife each received a permit in a jurisdiction, are pure chance.
“It was a random process, a random draw, and that’s what came out of the draw,” he said.
“When you think of lottery draws in pro sports, it’s not always exactly what the numbers might entail.”
As part of the process, KPMG will be issuing a fairness report. Makowsky was unable to say what elements that report might contain.
As for Prince Albert, while both of the recipients are from Saskatoon, at least one has Prince Albert ties.
That’s Jim Southam, of Prairie Cannabis Ltd., who says he’s been preparing for legalization for three and a half years.
“Myself and my team are elated that we’ve won,” Southam said.
“We are very humbled and appreciative to be able to serve Prince Albert. I think we’re feeling fortunate that we were awarded even one license. There was a lot of competition in the draws,.”
Southam said he owns a home in Christopher Lake, played minor hockey in Prince Albert and has flown in and out of the city while working up north in the mines.
“I have a lot of friends and past coworkers that live in Prince Albert, so I have quite a few connections to the Prince Albert area,” he said.
According to a press release, Southam’s business will be out to educate the public about cannabis.
“Cannabis prohibition has meant that we have not been able to learn the truth and the facts about cannabis,” the press release said.
“It is going to take a lot of effort to undo the myths and stereotypes that cannabis use has acquired over the last 95 years that Cannabis prohibition has been in effect. We feel that educating the public will be paramount when transitioning to the forthcoming new cannabis laws. To attain this goal we will work in collaboration with City Council, the Prince Albert Police Service and the Province.”
Currently, Prince Albert City Council has not set out its zoning bylaws for legal cannabis stores. Other cities, such as Saskatoon and Regina, have completed the process. Southam said he’s already reached out to council, Mayor Greg Dionne and Acting Police Chief Jeff Roden to get the conversation started.
Both Dionne and City Manager Jim Toye were out of the province Friday and unavailable for comment.
“I’m here to work with everyone involved to make it as seamless a transition as possible as we enter into a new era of cannabis legalization,” Southam said.
“There’s a lot of education to be done all over the place, and that’s one of the reasons I got involved. I feel like I can help inform people about cannabis use and its benefits.”
While legalization was originally targeted for July 1 of this year, delays in the House of Commons and the Senate have pushed back that timeline. Debate for the third reading is underway. Should it pass without any further amendments, provinces will be given a period of time to prepare for legalization. That means legalization will take place in August at the earliest.