Alberta’s Cannabis Plan: Private Retailers With Strict Government Oversight

Published on February 16, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Calgary's skyline on a cold winter night along the Bow River.

In late 2017, Alberta revealed the basics of its retail cannabis plan, announcing that adult-use products would be sold in standalone private stores overseen by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, along with online sales through a government-run website.

This morning, at the McDougall Centre in Calgary, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and representatives from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission announced further details for the province, covering everything from rules for store ownership to mandatory security guidelines. Key points:

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission Is King

Responsible for overseeing distribution, compliance, and enforcement of the cannabis retail system in Alberta, the AGLC has the authority to set strict regulatory guidelines and licence requirements for private cannabis retailers. Regulations will be aligned with federal rules around advertising, labeling, and promotion of cannabis, and provinces are free to strengthen regulations in the future. Beyond this, Alberta’s Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis authorizes the AGLC to carry out public online sales and establish provincial offences related to youth possession, public consumption, and consumption of cannabis in vehicles.

Marching Orders for Private Stores (and Those Who Want to Run Them)

Today brought a wealth of specific information for Alberta’s would-be cannabis retailers.

Those convicted of minor cannabis possession will not face automatic disqualification from the application process.

Licencing: To become a private cannabis retailer, one must apply for an AGLC licence, a process that involves a mandatory background check of criminal records, business history, and tax and financial information. Licences must be renewed annually; background checks will be required every one to three years; and no single person, business, or organization can have more than 15% of retail licences across the province, allowing for a level playing field for large and small businesses. Of note: Those convicted of minor cannabis possession will not face automatic disqualification from the application process. Also: Completed applications must include a $400 application fee, a $700 first-year licencing fee, and a $3,000 deposit for the mandatory background checks, billed as “cost recovery for due diligence process.” Retailers can submit applications starting on March 6, and you can view the application form here.

The AGLC will maintain a database of qualified cannabis employees.

Employment: The AGLC will maintain a database of qualified cannabis employees, each of whom must be at least 18 years old, have completed four to six hours of mandatory online training, and passed a criminal background check. Retailers will only be able to hire qualified employees, and the online training program will be launched May 1.

Store Location: Stores cannot be built within 100 metres (roughly one city block) of schools or hospitals, and municipalities can establish additional zoning regulations, including between stores.

Store Operation and Sales: Retail stores may only conduct business between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m. (the same hours as liquor stores, and municipalities may further limit hours). All stores must meet mandatory security measures, including alarms, video surveillance, and secured product storage. Product can only be displayed in a locked display case and accessed by retail workers when the store is open. For customers, there is a purchase limit of 30 grams per transaction, a restriction that applies to both retail stores and online sales, and onsite consumption is forbidden. The good news: Approved smelling/viewing containers will be permitted.

“These regulations focus on keeping our communities safe, while protecting public health and promoting safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces,” said Kathleen Ganley, the province’s minister of justice and solicitor general. “They’ll help keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, while ensuring consumers have access to safe products no matter where they live.”

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Dave Schmader
Dave Schmader
Dave Schmader is the author of the book "Weed: The User's Guide." Follow him on Twitter @davidschmader
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