Cannabis retail locations ‘missed opportunity’ for small-business owners, says CFIB

Loblaws tops list of 24 locations chosen by Cannabis NL

The locations of 24 cannabis retail stores across Newfoundland and Labrador — detailing where you will be able to buy legal marijuana — were released Monday, and many will be attached to Dominion supermarkets that already have liquor stores.

But the list was criticized by the provincial branch of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for being a “missed opportunity for small business owners.”

The list was provided by Cannabis NL, the arm of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation that the provincial government has charged with regulating cannabis retailers.

Sharon Sparkes, president and CEO of the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation, said there were more than 80 applications that were whittled down to the two dozen announced Monday.

“Each of these bring a retail experience to the table that ultimately will provide a safe, secure access,” said Sparkes.

Vaughn Hammond, CFIB’s director in Newfoundland and Labrador, said the list shows the legal marijuana industry will be run largely by the provincial government and big business.

“The structure of the RFP to begin with more or less made it difficult for small business owners to even come up with an operation that could even meet their requirements and criteria,” he told CBC on Monday afternoon.

The list includes at least one location in a number of major towns, from Labrador City to Deer Lake to Carbonear.

Five locations have been approved in St. John’s, three in Conception Bay South and two in Mount Pearl, so far. Ten of the locations are in existing Dominion grocery stores across the province that already have liquor stores attached, including in Gander and Stephenville.

Sparkes touted the diversity of the types of the locations.

The bulk of the locations are in what the province considers Tier 1 — standalone stores restricted to people 19 and up — and Tier 4 — behind a counter, hidden from view, similar to how convenience stores sell tobacco now. But there are also a Tier 2 — a 19-and-up-only enclosed area in larger retail space — and a Tier 3 — a dedicated service desk in a larger retail space, away from the main cash counter — location on the list.

But there are gaps; several areas in the province had either no qualifying proposals, or no proposals at all. The province will be issuing a new request for proposals in six areas:

  • Labrador City (one allocated licence).
  • Central Labrador and Happy Valley-Goose Bay (no proposals received).
  • Southern Newfoundland, including Port aux Basques (no proposals received).
  • Northern Peninsula (no qualifying proposals received).
  • Bonavista Peninsula (no qualifying proposals received).
  • Burin Peninsula.

Some areas in larger centres — such as the Southlands and Goulds areas of St. John’s — had no qualifying proposals, but won’t see a new RFP. Sparkes said for now, the province expects residents in those areas to be able to use nearby suppliers.

The smaller the population centre, said Hammond — such as in Labrador — the less likely a small-business owner would feel he or she could compete with the already established illegal supply.

The president of the liquor corporation acknowledged the list skews largely to larger operations.

“I do think it’s somewhat challenging for a retailer right now with a brand new industry, so I guess I’m not surprised by the fact that the majority are established retailers,” Sparkes said.

An independent businessman, Thomas H. Clarke, who did receive approval — for Portugal Cove-St. Phillips — says he feels lucky to have done so.

“Loblaws has got the most licences, and that concerns me a little bit, because I was hoping that more local entrepreneurs would have a chance to open their businesses and keep the money here and keep the jobs here, rather than big corporations taking over.”

The early legal supply of weed to this province is likely to come from Canopy Growth’s facility in Smiths Falls, Ont., until a $55-million grow operation opens in St. John’s late next year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The news comes on the same day that Canopy Growth — which the province has chosen as the main supplier of cannabis once it’s legalized by the federal government – unveiled St. John’s as the location for a $55-million production facility to supply the local market.

More retail locations are expected to be approved before that happens.

And while Sparkes says the province will be readying when legalization — expected this summer — happens, some details still need to be ironed out, such as pricing.

“Our pricing structure is still very much under review, and we’re working with Canopy, obviously, we have an agreement with them, we’re working with them. We’ve put out an expression of interest in regards to other cannabis suppliers, and we’ll work with them as well on the pricing,” she said.

“Right now, I cannot say definitively where the pricing will fall; however, we’re certainly working on that.”

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