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Loblaws qualifies for 10 licences to sell cannabis products in Newfoundland and Labrador

Sharon Sparkes, NLC CEO and president: “I’m not surprised by the fact that the majority are established retailers. However … we do have a couple (where) it is a brand new business and they’ve certainly taken a look at it and carefully evaluated how this is going to work for them.”
Sharon Sparkes, NLC CEO and president: “I’m not surprised by the fact that the majority are established retailers. However … we do have a couple (where) it is a brand new business and they’ve certainly taken a look at it and carefully evaluated how this is going to work for them.” - Kenn Oliver

Fourteen regions potentially without pot shops

The most widely available legalized cannabis products in the province later this year won’t be at Canopy Growth stores, they will be at your local grocery store.

Loblaws, parent to the province’s Dominion Stores, was one of 24 successful applicants to the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.’s (NLC) request for proposals for licensed cannabis retailers. The grocery giant plans to sell from its existing smoke and lotto shops at 10 locations around the island.

Those locations and the remaining 14, while serving a large portion of the population, still leave both the island and Labrador without potential retailers in six geographic areas where the NLC was prepared to award licences, because no applications were received.

“The fact that in those particular areas this time around there weren’t successful applicants, it’s a little disappointing. We would have liked to have them all covered,” NLC CEO and president Sharon Sparkes said.

To fill the gaps, the corporation is re-issuing a request for proposals Tuesday in the hope of filling them when the next round of licences are awarded.

“I would hope in the next round, once the retailers in these areas see the results of this, that some may reconsider and put forth a proposal,” Sparkes said.

Among the six areas where no one applied were Southlands and the Gander area — excluding the town of Gander, but including communities such as Lewisporte, Twillingate and Fogo Island.

Applications were submitted in eight other areas in the initial request for proposals — including Goulds — but none of them were able to meet the NLC’s criteria within a heavily weighted scoring metric, scoring less than 60 out of 100 points.

The NLC, however, is opting not to re-issue in those areas, suggesting that most people won’t have to drive too far to reach a retailer and others can avail of the forthcoming online sales platform.

“I think the accessibility is there,” says Sparkes, noting 28 retail locations, a potential for seven more throughout the island, the vast majority in the metro St. John’s region.

“If we do see that that is problematic, then we’re flexible that we can look at it again. However, right now we do feel that they will be adequately serviced.”

Asked if the eight per cent commission in the request for proposals might have played a part in the lack of applicants in some areas, Sparkes said the rate is in keeping with other controlled substances and that perhaps the varying levels of commitment involved with each tier’s model could have played a part.
“I think that the eight per cent plays a factor in their business plan, there’s no doubt, but at the end of the day they had to look at that relative to their own unique business models.”

Outside of the Dominion stores and Canopy’s four retail locations included in their supplier agreement with the provincial government, the rest of the qualifiers are a potpourri of retailers, most adopting the Tier 1 standalone storefront model.

Among them is two more Canopy Growth stores — one in Mount Pearl, another in Conception Bay South — and two from Cape d’Or Holdings, owners of Esso gas stations in Deer Lake and Paradise.

Others include The Herbal Centre on Kenmount Road, C.K. Rentals Ltd. in Clarenville, Thomas H. Clarke in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Dee Dee’s Shoppe in Flatrock, Holyrood Medical* — which is no longer a pharmacy — and the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawiomi band council in Conne River.

Newfoundland-owned and operated family business the Healthy Vibe scored two chances at a licence with applications for its existing stores in downtown St. John’s and Conception Bay South, one being a store within a store, the other resembling a Canada Post counter in another retail location.

“I’m not surprised by the fact that the majority are established retailers. However … we do have a couple (where) it is a brand new business and they’ve certainly taken a look at it and carefully evaluated how this is going to work for them.”

The second phase of the licence application involves further analysis of the business plan, background checks, securing municipal approval, pre-licensing inspection and a three-week public notification period during which citizens will have a chance to submit concerns or lend their support, similar to the process the NLC follows for its liquor licences.

It also includes training for the retailers, but that looks to be later in the process.
“That piece is still being fleshed out and we are certainly leveraging all the information we have available to us in regards to responsible cannabis retailing, consumption, all those things that are necessary to ensure safety and security,” Sparkes said.

The whole thing is expected to take five to seven weeks, which coincides with the federal government’s initial plan to have legislation passed by early July. With the Senate hanging on to Bill C-45 longer than expected, it’s widely expected that Canadians won’t consume legal cannabis on Canada Day, but weeks, perhaps months down the road.
While the NLC has been operating on a July 1 green light schedule and officials feel ready for legalization, they recognize there will be a lot to learn in the early days of the burgeoning industry.

“Day 1, as much as we think we’ll have everything in place, no doubt there will be things that we’ll have to take another look at, potentially adjustments, potentially additional resources,” Sparkes says.

Any news on the prices and product lists will have to wait, as those details are still being worked out with Canopy Growth.

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com
Twitter: kennoliver79

Note: As a result of incorrect information provided to the Telegram, a previous version of this story identified Holyrood Pharmasave as one of the successful applicants to the NLC's RFP. The business in question is, in fact, Holyrood Medical. Holyrood Pharmasave is still an operating pharmacy and did not apply for to a licensed cannabis retailer and has no intention to do so.

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