Cannabis announcement sets a date, but leaves questions about marijuana in Saskatchewan unanswered

Click to play video: 'Legal marijuana will arrive October 17, but Sask. retail outlets might not be ready' Legal marijuana will arrive October 17, but Sask. retail outlets might not be ready
WATCH: Even with a 17 week period between the announcement and the official date, the lack of clarity will result in some retailers choosing not to open on October 17 – Jun 20, 2018

119 days. 17 weeks. 2,856 hours. 171,360 minutes. 10,281,600 seconds.

No matter how you look at it, the clock is counting down the moments until Canadians will have access to legal, recreational marijuana.

October 17, 2018 is the date consumers have to look forward to, but for the province, and those lucky enough to win an SLGA retail outlet permit, it’s a small timeframe to answer monolithic questions.

READ MORE: Marijuana to be legal in Canada starting October 17, Trudeau confirms

“It comes down to two main questions: one is the operation of the Cannabis Authority and how it will deal with applications for licenses,” explained Amy Groothuis, an associate lawyer with Miller Thomson LLP.

“The second is just the core operational [procedures]: the pricing of cannabis, what rules will surround the distribution of cannabis, how cannabis can be promoted,” she continued.
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“I think Health Canada, all the regulatory, all the compliance policy procedures need to be put in place first,” Allen Kilback, one of the SLGA cannabis retail outlet lottery winners added.

Kilback, an experienced entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses in Pilot Butte, says this process has been unlike his previous ventures in real estate or liquor sales.

“When you operate a business, you kind of put a budget in place; operating procedures, compliance, all those things are sort of already in place. Here we’re still waiting to figure out exactly where it stands,” Kilback said.

READ MORE: Sask. to have additional tax on marijuana production in federal agreement

The Cannabis Control Act (Saskatchewan) – passed at the end of May – sets the parameters for which regulations the Cannabis Authority in the province can control, but those regulations have yet to be set.

In a press conference this morning, Premier Scott Moe said they were still acting with July 1 in mind.

“To date we remain focused on the July 1 date and continue to work diligently to ensure the province’s regulations are in date by that time.”

Moe also added that any changes caused by the October 17 date would be dealt with quickly through conversations with any affected municipalities or law enforcement agencies.

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Even with a 17 week period between the federal announcement and the official date, the lack of provincial clarity will likely result in some retailers choosing not to open on October 17.

“What I would expect is that for each of [the cannabis retail outlets], they’re now looking at obtaining a storefront, all the zoning and licensing – everything that would normally come with owning a business – at the same time as dealing with a fairly new distribution model for cannabis. I expect with the amount of unknowns, there may be a bit of a slow rollout,” Groothuis predicted.

“I don’t think we were ready for July 1; it couldn’t physically happen,” Kilback admitted.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan selects retailers for cannabis stores

“Even October 17, you know we will not be open on that particular day. The process we’re going to go through to do our due diligence, it’s going to take us more than 17 weeks to make that happen,” he confirmed.

Other applicants, like Avana Canada, who have four retail licenses in Manitoba and another in Regina, were feeling the constraints of the timeline.

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“October 17 will be more manageable than the original 8 to 12 week timeline – to finalize location selection, complete renovations and get systems and processes up and running. We, along with many other businesses, will be working tirelessly to be ready for day one,” Zubin Jasavala, Avana CEO said.

Kilback isn’t the only one who will likely need more than 17 weeks to be prepared for legalization. Groothuis predicts the industry will see tweaks to regulations for the coming years.

“The Cannabis Control Act for Saskatchewan was drafted to provide the Cannabis Authority with a significant amount of discretion. I think it’s a good approach given how new the entire system is; I do expect that over the next few years we’re probably going to see some tweaks,” she said.

But even the remaining uncertainty isn’t enough to dull the high that Trudeau’s announcement brought.

“It’s actually really exciting to see it finally pass. We have a sense of a clear direction now of where we’re going, we have some timelines that we can start working around, so it’s a great day for Canada,” Kilback said.

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