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Saskatchewan to phase in open market for cannabis retail in 2020

WATCH: Local pot shop owners react to Saskatchewan's plan of phasing in an open market.

The Saskatchewan government is hoping to weed out black market cannabis suppliers with a phased-in open market system for retail permits, starting next spring.

The province announced its plan during question period at the legislature on Tuesday.

Fifty-one original permit holders were decided by a lottery process prior to marijuana legalization in October 2017.

The number of permits within a given Saskatchewan community — and not all communities were eligible — was based on population size.

Regulated by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), proponents were also only allowed one permit per jurisdiction.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan selects retailers for cannabis stores

“A year has passed since legalization and most of the initial retailers are now serving customers in their communities,” said SLGA Minister Gene Makowsky in a news release Tuesday.

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

Beginning in April 2020, SLGA will accept applications for cannabis retail permits in Saskatchewan communities with less than 2,500 people.

At this time, proponents will also be able to apply for permits in communities previously identified as eligible, but which did not proceed.

Following that, in September 2020, SLGA will accept applications for stores in all communities — regardless of population size.

READ MORE: Optimism grows in Sask. despite gap in legal and illegal pot prices

According to SLGA, communities will still be able to opt out of having a cannabis retail store.

But the permit changes aren’t welcomed by everyone.

Landyn Uhersky, Wiid Boutique co-owner, said it’s too early to tell how the new competition will affect sales. But he is concerned about bigger competitors.

“I’d be worried about is the big national chains coming in and bullying the market,” Uhersky said. “It’s going to be the big guys that benefit from the this and I’m kind of scared it’s not going to be the little guys.”

“I would have preferred to see Saskatchewan wait a little while, wait until we have all the products out, have consistent supply, see the prices drop and then we can gain all of that market together,” Uhersky said.

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READ MORE: Major cannabis retailer enters Regina market, independent stores forming co-op

In a new and changing industry, Uhersky said he isn’t surprised by the government’s announcement. Although, he said it will be a challenge for established shops to get a leg up against new competitors.

“There are a lot of new products coming out, so it’s anybody’s game going forward. We just hope that our service and local community ties will continue to play a factor in people’s shopping habits,” Uhersky said.

Those interested in becoming retailers must meet SLGA’s permitting requirements, including a good character check, inventory tracking and store security.

They will also need to meet local municipal requirements, including zoning.

Permitted retailers will still continue to receive their cannabis supple from permitted wholesalers and federally-licensed producers in Saskatchewan.