Liquor Stores plan for Alberta retail pot outlets boosted by Aurora Cannabis investment

Many people shift consumption from alcohol to marijuana after marijuana becomes more available, a U.S. study shows. GETTY IMAGES

Aurora Cannabis Inc. has signed a deal to buy a minority stake in Edmonton-based Liquor Stores N.A. Ltd., which plans to launch a brand of cannabis retail stores.

Under the deal, Alberta-based Aurora will acquire a 19.9 per cent stake in the company for $103.5 million through a non-brokered private placement.

It will also have an ability to increase its interest in Liquor Stores up to 40 per cent with an additional investment.

“This will allow us the speed to market that we were looking for,” Aurora Cannabis’ chief corporate officer Cam Battley said. “It allows us to begin converting stores very, very quickly so that we will be ready on day one.”

READ MORE: How to buy weed in Canada when it’s legalized

Liquor Stores plans to use the money to establish and launch a brand of cannabis retail outlets.

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The retailer says it will convert some of its existing stores into cannabis outlets and establish new locations.

Liquor Stores will also use a portion of the money to strengthen its existing liquor retail brands by renovating its existing outlets and for general corporate purposes.

WATCH: The City of Edmonton is looking to see if liquor rules need to be updated, particularly when it comes to the distance between them. Vinesh Pratap looks at what’s driving the debate. (Aired Jan. 16, 2018.)

Click to play video: 'Edmonton mulls over changing how far apart from one another liquor stores need to be'
Edmonton mulls over changing how far apart from one another liquor stores need to be

Edmonton-based Liquor Stores operates 231 retail liquor stores under several brands, including Liquor Depot, Wine and Beyond, and Liquor Barn. The publicly-listed company has 178 locations in Alberta, 34 in British Columbia, and a presence in Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey and Kentucky, according to Liquor Stores’ 2017 information circular.

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In December, the company said it hired one of its directors to map out its future cannabis strategy as Canada moves to make recreational pot legal by  July.

Liquor Stores said James Burns will act as vice-chairman and be the lead executive for business transformation and investor relations. He was appointed to the board in June 2017.

READ MORE: Edmonton-based Liquor Stores N.A. hires cannabis strategist

The company previously indicated it was interested in retailing marijuana in Alberta and B.C. but was awaiting regulatory clarity before deciding if it would be profitable to do so.

Most of its liquor stores are in Alberta, where the provincial government said it plans to control the online sale of pot, but will leave over-the-counter sales to private operators.

Details on how sales would work have yet to be determined. Private pot stores would have to be physically separate from stores that sell alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals, but how that would be legally defined is also undetermined. Stores would not be allowed to sell anything but cannabis and cannabis-related products.

B.C. has said it will allow both public and private retail outlets. Both provinces have indicated details on licensing will come early this year.

READ MORE: B.C. to ban the sale of pot in liquor stores, allow landlords to ban home-grown grass

Last month, Aurora Cannabis reached a friendly billion-dollar deal to buy rival licensed producer CanniMed Therapeutics, making it the biggest acquisition the marijuana sector has seen to date.

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The agreement, valued around $1.1 billion, comes after an acrimonious takeover battle that included a public war of words and a lawsuit filed by CanniMed against its suitor.

READ MORE: Former head of RCMP drug squad now leads national marijuana business 

The Canadian government plans to legalize marijuana on July 1.

— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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