Clock is ticking as Calgary moves to start approving cannabis stores

With a firm date for pot legalization finally released by Ottawa, city staff are working to give prospective retailers some clarity on their applications for local stores.

“We’ve been reassessing our timelines and taking a look at when we can begin making decisions on cannabis store applications,” said Brandy MacInnis, senior special projects officer with the City of Calgary.

MacInnis said the city will announce on Monday when it will begin making decisions on the 241 active applications.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that recreational cannabis will become legal in Canada on Oct. 17, and said the government has delayed the legalization schedule to give provinces and territories more time to implement their regimes.

MacInnis said the city will be in contact with applicants early next week, letting them know the next steps, and will be working to help them be open for Day 1 if they receive an approval with no appeals.

“That’s the key, is that if there is an appeal on one of our decisions, there’s a chance that there could be delays,” she said.

Once applicants get approval on their development permit application, they can then apply for their building permit, business licence and Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission licence.

Insp. Kevin Forsen with the Calgary police community support section said the later-than-expected legalization date gives the service more time to get staff trained.

“We’re looking at training approximately 3,000 people, both sworn and civilian members of the police service,” Forsen said.

He said traffic enforcement members are “very busy” working on training.

“The training’s not going to end when legalization begins,” Forsen noted. “It’s going to be an ongoing effort for the service.”

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Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley said once recreational cannabis is legal, the province will continue to watch the system closely and make any necessary changes.

Officials say the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s online sales of cannabis will be up and running for Oct. 17.

“We’re working with a variety of producers to ensure that we have a good, strong, adequate supply for Albertans when legalization comes,” commission president Alain Maisonneuve said during a teleconference with reporters Thursday.

“We’re going to have about 300 products . . . that are coming from a variety of suppliers across Canada, and we’re concluding our negotiations with each one of those suppliers.”

The October legalization date was well received by local cannabis store applicants, who have been waiting to hear an official timeline from the federal government.

Angus Taylor, chief administrative officer with NewLeaf Cannabis, said he’s “overjoyed that we have a date finally.”

“I think it takes away a lot of the indecision from municipalities and provides that clarity that those levels of government in particular are looking for,” he said.

Taylor said the company was preparing to have its proposed network of stores open for Sept. 1.

“An extra six weeks isn’t too material in terms of us waiting,” Taylor said. “It does delay a couple of things that we had hoped to do, like our job fairs and our hiring we had planned earlier, and those will have to be postponed, of course, but, overall, we’re happy.”

Nathan Mison, vice-president of government and stakeholder relations with Fire & Flower, said the legalization date provides some clarity to an industry that has developed quickly with “some significant apprehension.”

The company hopes to have its stores open a month early to offer cannabis education. In the meantime, the main challenge will be hiring, Mison said.

“This is going to be a sector built from the ground up, and there’s going to be lots of other people in the market,” he said.

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