Recreational cannabis may be legal in Canada starting Wednesday, but don’t expect any marijuana stores to open in Prince Albert any time soon.
Delays due to regulations and constructions have set back opening dates for stores across Canada.
Ontario will have zero brick and mortar locations open Wednesday, while B.C. will only have one this year. In Saskatchewan, stores in Warman, Yorkton, North Battleford, La Loche, La Ronge, Swift Current, Regina, P.A. and Saskatoon won’t be open, though, according to CBC, Yorkton, the R.M. of Edenwold, Battleford, Martensville and North Battleford will have locations ready to go on Oct. 17.
“Unfortunately, it looks like we’re shooting for a mid-November opening,” said Jim Southam, owner of Prairie Cannabis, which is opening at 180 17th Street West in Prince Albert, the former location of a pizza parlour.
“Renovations have taken a while. I’d rather have things prepared than open with the store not ready, and I want to make sure my employees are trained properly before we open and have everything ready to serve the public properly.”
Southam said he has completed most of the paperwork he needed to with the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), which is regulating the cannabis market. He is authorized to buy cannabis, but needs one more approval from the SLGA and a business license from the city, along with construction to wrap up, before he can open his doors.
Southam isn’t worried that he won’t be open on day one.
“With the number of stores they rolled out, there’s only two in Prince Albert and mail-order sales,” he said.
“It would have been nice to open on day one, but this only happens once every 100 years and it will probably never happen again. If we’re a month late or six weeks late, it won’t be that big of a deal.”
Southam foresees a customer-focused experience at his store, though visitors won’t be able to sample or smell the product.
“All cannabis is going to be in sealed packaging, he said. “There is an option to have tethered smell jars, but then that cannabis has to be shipped back to the licensed producer, or I have to have someone from SLGA come to my store and witness me destroy it. With the shortage of cannabis we’re looking at here in the next six to 12 months, I don’t want to destroy any.”
Southam said he expects many of his customers to have an idea of what they’re looking for already, what they like and what is best for them.
“It will be the newer consumer where we have to explain the effects and different strains and flavours,” he said.
“It’s going to be a very personal experience. I’m really focusing on training my employees to interact with customers. I know they’re going to have a lot of questions, so I’m preparing my employees to be ready for that. I think that’s going to be number one, being able to communicate with the public and the customers and help answer all of their questions.”
The data backs up Southam’s assumptions. According to Statistics Canada, 85.2 per cent of Canadians aren’t currently using cannabis, and only 5.9 per cent surveyed said they will try the substance when it’s legalized, with 9.4 per cent saying they may try. Of the current users, 49.2 per cent say they will switch to legal, with 25.2 per cent saying they may switch. Nationwide, an estimated 5,433,652 people will use legal cannabis, while 1,689,975 will continue to use illegal cannabis, for a total of 7.12 million cannabis users nationwide.
As for Wednesday, Southam thinks life is going to carry on as usual, for the most part.
“(What’s going to change is) people will stop getting charged for possession,” he said. “It’ll just be another Wednesday.”
Dionne: City ready for legal pot
While stores might not be open as of yet, the city is ready for Wednesday’s legalization date.
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said the lack of brick and mortar stores isn’t a problem limited to Prince Albert. He also said the online market will be huge.
The city’s concern is more with the impact on public safety. According to Dionne, the police and the city are ready.
‘We have our officers trained,” he said.
‘We’re warning anyone that if you decide to smoke and drive, we’re going to catch you.”
Enforcement will start next weekend, the mayor said.
“We’re ready and we’re ramped up. We’re not going to play around with it. We have enough problems with impaired drivers with alcohol. Anyone that thinks they’re going to smoke and drive is going to be treated (the same).”
According to Statistics Canada, 14 per cent of cannabis user with a valid driver’s license reported driving within two hours of using.
The Government of Canada and the province have instituted zero tolerance laws for people caught driving with cannabis in their system.