Get­ting ready for le­gal pot

Lots to con­sider for mu­nic­i­pal units; prov­ince plan­ning pub­lic aware­ness pro­gram

Tri-County Vanguard - - NEWS - JOHN MCPHEE SALTWIRE NET­WORK CON­TRIB­UTED BY NSLC ERIC BOURQUE TRICOUNTY VAN­GUARD ERIC BOURQUE

An artist con­cep­tion of how the cannabis re­tail set­ups will look in the NSLC stores.

Blue Dream? Ex­cel­lent choice. Will that be pre­wrapped, dried flower or oil?

The Nova Sco­tia Liquor Corp. will have a head-spin­ning se­lec­tion of cannabis prod­ucts ready for cus­tomers when fed­eral leg­is­la­tion gets the green light.

Of­fi­cials rolled out the first draft of their cannabis plan at a news con­fer­ence at NSLC head­quar­ters in Bay­ers Lake last week. Sur­rounded by posters of store-de­sign con­cepts and ac­com­pa­nied by a slideshow, they talked about things like brand­ing, so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity poli­cies and what their cus­tomers can ex­pect at their cannabis out­lets.

The drug will be sold in “store­within-a-store” sec­tions in ex­ist­ing NSLC out­lets that have been selected as cannabis re­tail lo­ca­tions – which in this re­gion in­cludes Yarmouth – set off by opaque glass and a sep­a­rate en­trance. The ex­cep­tion will be a cannabis-only out­let on Clyde Street in Hal­i­fax, where cus­tomers will get a more in-depth buy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing a whiff of the dif­fer­ent scents and strains on hand.

Any­one over 19 will be able to buy a max­i­mum 30 grams per visit but don’t ex­pect to be in and out with your stash in short or­der.

“This is a very dif­fer­ent busi­ness for us,” said Tim Pel­lerin, the NSLC’s se­nior vice-pres­i­dent and op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. “On av­er­age, we’ve been told (it will take) about 10 min­utes per trans­ac­tion that we will in­ter­act with a cus­tomer (and) as much as 18 min­utes and above for those highly in­volved first-timers. We’re go­ing to at­tempt to give those folks as much ser­vice and at­ten­tion as pos­si­ble.”

As for what you’ll pay, that’s still to be worked out. The At­lantic pre­miers have said the four prov­inces would try to come up with a com­mon price per gram to avoid the cross-bor­der is­sues that cur­rently plague al­co­hol sales.

An artist’s con­cep­tion at Mon­day’s pre­sen­ta­tion showed a NSLC cannabis “concierge” stand­ing in front of a wall of cab­i­nets with cat­e­gories such as en­hanced, re­laxed and un­wind.

The cus­tomer will join a queue sim­i­lar to a bank line for ac­cess to the cannabis concierge, who will help them choose a strain (Pur­ple Haze, Blue Dream, etc.) and form (pre-rolled joint, dried flower, oil and gel cap).

The Clyde Street out­let will carry about 300 prod­ucts while about 150 prod­ucts will be avail­able in 11 other stores across the prov­ince.

Ac­ces­sories such as pa­pers, grinders, lock­able stor­age con­tain­ers and vapour­iz­ers will also be of­fered.

“We know we’re not go­ing to get this per­fect the first time when it comes to prod­uct as­sort­ment,” Pel­lerin said. “The team has worked very hard to un­der­stand where the mar­ket­places around the world have been moved to.”

You’ll need a valid gov­ern­men­tis­sued photo ID, such as a driver’s li­cence, pass­port, ci­ti­zen­ship card or Cer­tifi­cate of In­dian Sta­tus card. But don’t bother ri­fling through your purse for that Air Miles card. No pro­mo­tions or in­cen­tives can be of­fered on cannabis pur­chases.

Un­like the al­co­hol sec­tion where mi­nors are al­lowed if ac­com­pa­nied by adults, only peo­ple 19 and over will be al­lowed into the cannabis store, Pel­lerin said.

Be­sides the di­rect re­tail sales, an on­line store will of­fer home de­liv­ery of 450 prod­ucts. (Nova Sco­tia’s leg­is­la­tion also al­lows peo­ple to grow up to four plants at home).

The NSLC plans to be ready for cus­tomers by July 1 but it’s un­clear when fed­eral leg­is­la­tion to le­gal­ize recre­ational cannabis will get the green light. The House of Com­mons cleared the Cannabis Act Bill C-45 in Novem­ber but the Se­nate is still mulling over the leg­is­la­tion.

As part of its “so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity” strat­egy, the NSLC will en­cour­age peo­ple to start low (as in THC lev­els) and go slow. And be­sides the usual re­frain of don’t drive while im­paired, cus­tomers also will be ad­vised not to mix their buzz with booze.

“Sep­a­rate is best,” said Pel­lerin, who was joined at the news con­fer­ence by Brett Mitchell, the NSLC’s pres­i­dent and CEO, and David DiPer­sio, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent and chief ser­vices of­fi­cer.

“There are a lot of un­knowns in terms of com­bin­ing with al­co­hol. We sug­gest keep­ing these prod­ucts sep­a­rate.”

While cannabis new­bies in par­tic­u­lar might be grap­pling with in­for­ma­tion over­load, the NSLC ex­pe­ri­ence won’t in­clude med­i­cal ad­vice or prod­ucts.

If you’ve been au­tho­rized by your health-care prac­ti­tioner and Health Canada to get cannabis for med­i­cal pur­poses, you’ll still be able to buy it from a li­censed pro­ducer, grow your own for your med­i­cal use, or des­ig­nate some­one to grow it for you, ac­cord­ing to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s web­site.

Pre­par­ing for the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis presents some chal­lenges to Nova Sco­tia’s mu­nic­i­pal units, in­clud­ing the short time pe­riod they have to work with, says a Hal­i­fax coun­cil­lor who was in Yarmouth for a gath­er­ing of mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“It’s one of those is­sues where we know this has been com­ing down for the last cou­ple of years,” said Coun. Shawn Cleary. “We had a lot of warn­ing it was com­ing, but we had no idea what it was go­ing to look like, so it’s only been in the last six, seven months that we kind of have an idea what it’s go­ing to look like.”

It doesn’t ap­pear they have a big time­frame be­fore cannabis be­comes le­gal, he said.

Mean­while, Robert Pur­cell of Nova Sco­tia’s jus­tice depart­ment de­scribes the move to le­gal cannabis as a “com­plex pol­icy shift” where much re­mains un­known, but he said every­one in­volved is try­ing to en­sure it’s done in the best way pos­si­ble.

Pur­cell, se­nior of­fi­cial with the jus­tice depart­ment’s cannabis ini­tia­tive, also was in Yarmouth for the spring work­shop of the Nova Sco­tia Fed­er­a­tion of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, for­merly known as the Union of Nova Sco­tia Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which was held May 10-12 at the Mariners Cen­tre.

Both he and Cleary were the pre­sen­ters for a ses­sion on cannabis le­gal­iza­tion.

Pre­cisely when peo­ple will be able to by cannabis legally is un­known, “but we be­lieve we’re ready to go, whether it’s July, Au­gust or Septem­ber,” Pur­cell said.

In this prov­ince, cannabis will be sold at 12 NSLC lo­ca­tions, Shawn Cleary, a coun­cil­lor with Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, speak­ing in Yarmouth May 12 dur­ing the spring work­shop of the Nova Sco­tia Fed­er­a­tion of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. in­clud­ing Yarmouth. ( Ini­tially, there were to have been nine, but three more were re­cently an­nounced.) Sales will also be avail­able on­line.

In his Yarmouth pre­sen­ta­tion – and again in an in­ter­view af­ter­wards – Pur­cell said hav­ing cannabis sales lim­ited to the NSLC seemed the best ap­proach. He cited two Amer­i­can states – Washington and Colorado – that went with a more wide-open sys­tem and that might have done it dif­fer­ently, he said, if given an­other chance.

“That’s one of the lessons learned that was cited by them,” Pur­cell said, “that if they had to do it over again, they would prob­a­bly be­gin with a tighter reg­u­lated model rather than the model they ( used), which was essen­tially pri­vate re­tail­ers and not tightly reg­u­lated.”

Cleary said he’s glad the prov­ince chose the NSLC for can- nabis sales in Nova Sco­tia. The con­cern, he said, is whether some peo­ple – if they’re a good dis­tance from an NSLC lo­ca­tion where cannabis is avail­able legally – might go to an il­le­gal source to get the prod­uct.

Aside from that, Cleary said there are a num­ber of is­sues for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with re­gard to le­gal cannabis, in­clud­ing where peo­ple will be al­lowed to smoke, the cost of en­force­ment and the like.

“As more peo­ple start look­ing to le­gal cannabis ... as it be­comes more main­stream, more peo­ple are go­ing to see it – and not every­one likes it – and so we know we’re go­ing to get more calls from the pub­lic say­ing ‘hey, I don’t like this. Peo­ple are smok­ing on my street. Peo­ple are smok­ing in this park. You need to send peo­ple out to deal with this.’”

Given that dif­fer­ent mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties may take dif­fer­ent ap­proaches as to where cannabis use will be per­mit­ted, Cleary said, “We’ll end up with a patch­work over the next cou­ple of years of where you can, where you can’t ... We’re go­ing to have to put up signs say­ing, ‘you can smoke over here,’ ‘ you can’t smoke over there.’ The costs keep adding up for us.”

What about ed­u­ca­tion? That was one of the is­sues raised by a work­shop par­tic­i­pant.

Pur­cell said a Nova Sco­tia pub­lic aware­ness pro­gram re­gard­ing cannabis should be out early this sum­mer. He also said dif­fer­ent pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment de­part­ments are be­ing ap­proached about they can do or are do­ing.

“So there’s cer­tainly a recog­ni­tion, from a Nova Sco­tia per­spec­tive, that great ef­forts have to go into pub­lic aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion in this new era that we’re en­ter­ing,” Pur­cell said.

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