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How will they roll? N.L. government's pot plans still hazy

Marijuana legalization by the federal government could be weeks away, and the provincial government is ready and waiting, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says.
Marijuana legalization by the federal government could be weeks away, and the provincial government is ready and waiting, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says. - 123RF Stock Photo

Your guess is as good as the provincial government’s for when cannabis will be legalized, leading to anxiety among would-be small business owners.

The federal legalization bill is currently working its way through the Senate, where the timeline has become less clear.

A vote is planned for June 7 on the bill, but even if that date is met, it will be another 12 weeks or more before legalization is settled. Any amendments to the federal bill would need to go back for debate, which could even further extend the wait.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, one of three ministers regularly questioned about cannabis legalization, says all the province can do is get ready and wait.

“It’s very clearly a federal prerogative here. We need to be ready to respond. All along we’ve been ready to respond to July,” Parsons said.

“Even then there was no definitive date. Many people were talking about July 1, but there was no way it was going to be July 1, per se.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Paul Davis, pressing Parsons on legalization details during question period on Wednesday, led the Justice minister to suggest it could be another six months before cannabis is legalized in the province.

Even that timeline was more or less plucked from thin air.

For now, Parsons says, the government’s preparation hasn’t changed. The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp., which is spearheading retail preparations, is still operating as though cannabis will be legal on July 1. Parsons says government departments — the majority of which will face some sort of legislative change to prepare — are also operating under the same assumption.

Parsons says the provincial legislation is expected during this sitting of the House of Assembly, with a myriad of bills needed to get things ready for roll out.

For Jon Keefe, owner of the Dabber Hashery, the wait is leading to a lot of frustration.

The NLC will distribute 41 retail licences for cannabis shops across the province, one of which will be in downtown St. John’s.

Keefe worries that once legalization is in effect and there’s only one NLC-licensed retail shop in the area, other businesses could be forced to close.

“There’s four shops on Water Street selling dope and the NLC thinks they’re going to replace all that with one single shop somewhere in the downtown. None of it adds up, none of it makes sense,” Keefe said.

“Speaking strictly as an enthusiast, the more I read and hear about legalization, the less enthusiastic I am about it.”

Keefe says the eight per cent cut of revenue offered to retailers on each gram of weed sold will not encourage the “Tier 1” store the NLC has outlined as the ideal cannabis retailer.

A Tier 1 retailer is described as a stand-alone shop, solely dedicated to selling cannabis.

Keefe says he was considering applying to the NLC’s request for proposals, but that thin margin made it impossible for him.

“We looked at the numbers and an eight per cent pre-tax profit margin, it just doesn’t make sense for us,” he said.

“To operate a small, downtown, street-level storefront with two employees, we’d have to sell a million and a half dollars’ worth of cannabis every year, if you’re only selling cannabis. It’s bananas.”

He said he will continue to focus on the Dabber Hashery, a small shop operating out of the Posie Row and Co. building on Duckworth Street that specializes in devices used to make concentrated cannabis products.

“Sure, maybe someday we’ll offer cannabis in our shop. But it’ll have to be a side-product and, honestly, it’s not even on my radar at this point. It’s not worth the hassle.”

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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