Council looking to cap retail cannabis operations

A Prince Albert city councillor says two cannabis stores is enough for the city, but there are questions about how best to keep it that way.

Ward 3 Coun. Every Botha isn’t convinced Prince Albert has the population to support additional cannabis retailers, even though the provincial government paved the way for more outlets by announcing plans to ease restrictions starting next spring.

Botha brought forward a notice of motion during the last council meeting asking administration to look at ways to cap the number of stores. Council approved the motion, but it did not include a return deadline.

“The size of our population, I just don’t think it justifies having more stores,” Botha said on Friday. “With liquor, everybody drinks, but not everybody smokes cannabis or consumes cannabis.”

Council has multiple options for restricting new businesses from opening, or current businesses from jumping into the cannabis market. City council has the power to limit the number of cannabis retail licenses within Prince Albert, but Botha also wants to look at changing zoning bylaws.

Cannabis store owners are not allowed to open and operate businesses within a certain distance of parks, schools or each other. Botha said he’s open to tightening those restrictions even further.

Botha is also concerned liquor retail outlets will start selling cannabis, something he’d like the city to stop before it even starts.

“There are cannabis drinks coming into the market, so should those be sold at the SLGA liquor store? No, those should be sold in the cannabis store,” Botha said. “There needs to be delineation between the two line items or the two types of beverage, so if you want to buy a cannabis infused drink, go to a cannabis store. If you want to buy liquor, you go to a liquor store. I don’t think we need to or should allow those two to be sold under the same roof or from the same location.”

Cannabis edibles became legal in Canada on Oct. 17, although stores didn’t start stocking them until December due to Health Canada regulations. Despite the name, edibles include things like cannabis infused ointments, oils and beverages.  At the time, SLGA minister Gene Makowsky said they would not prohibit the sale of cannabis infused alcoholic beverages.

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian lives 34 km away from the nearest cannabis store. Saskatchewan is slightly above the national average, with a population-weighted average distance of 37 km away.

Canadian cannabis retailers recorded more than $900 million in non-medicinal cannabis sales during the first year of legalization. That number includes both online and in-person purchases.

Once cannabis was legalized, the provincial government awarded 51 business permits in 32 different communities. Those permits were awarded as part of a lottery system, which restricted how many retailers could operate in an area.

In October, the government announced they were scrapping that system, and replacing it with a phased-in open market system beginning in April 2020.

“We believe opening the market to more retailers will help meet customer demand while also helping discourage competition from unlicensed stores,” Makowsky said in a media release.

“The phased-in approach is a balanced approach that will allow existing retailers to continue to operate and grow their customer base while facilitating timely opportunities for store openings in smaller communities.”