Getting ready for legal pot
Lots to consider for municipal units; province planning public awareness program
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.