A dozen medical pot producers plan to start a chain of Alberta marijuana stores if the provincial government allows private companies to sell recreational weed next year.
The Canadian Cannabis Co-Op hopes to get in on the ground floor of what’s expected to be a billion-dollar Alberta industry when the federal government legalizes dope consumption July 1, 2018.
“We will build out a retail channel in Alberta and any other province that is looking at including private sector retail and distribution in their model,” Darren Karasiuk, chair of the co-op working group, said Thursday.
“We’re anxious to get out in front of Albertans, to talk more about our proposal, to communicate with the legislators and figure out how we fit into this at whatever level works best in Alberta.”
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley released the province’s proposed framework for marijuana sales this week, saying she’s looking for more input on whether to set up government-owned and run stores, as planned in Ontario, or licence and regulate private operators.
Public consultation is open until Oct. 27. The co-op has hired a consultant to look at possibly opening 50 brick-and-mortar outlets if private involvement is allowed, and would also like to see online transactions, Karasiuk said.
This would mean spending tens of millions of dollars and setting up headquarters in an undetermined Alberta location, but he couldn’t provide details until the government makes a final decision later this fall on how it will proceed.
“I think we have a compelling proposition for the government. We would take on the investment, no taxpayer dollars would be used, and we would exist alongside other private models that are out there.”
Alberta became the first province to privatize liquor sales in 1993, although Ganley said dope won’t be sold in the same place as alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals.
The co-op would feature cannabis from all members, providing exposure for small craft producers as well as big companies, and draw on everyone’s experience in the therapeutic field, Karasiuk said.
The current members grow more than half of Canada’s medical pot. None has Alberta facilities, but the group would welcome any other producers who want to join, said Karasiuk, vice-president of strategy for Toronto-area cannabis firm MedReleaf.
MedReleaf now produces 9,800 kilograms of medical marijuana annually, but intends to boost that to 35,000 kilograms per year by next summer, he said.
“There’s likely going to be a shortage of supply in the early days of the recreational market in Canada. By coming together as a group, we can effectively ensure there is a supply of regulated, safe cannabis.”
The Alberta marijuana market is expected to be about 100 to 120 tonnes per year with an approximate retail value of $1 billion to $1.2 billion, he said.
“Timing’s tight with 269 days to go until the recreational market (opens) … We’re in a position as a group to make these decisions quickly and in such a way that we can be that retail and distribution model of choice for Albertans.”