Cannabis will be sold at only nine Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation stores when the drug is officially legalized in July, the province announced Tuesday.
Pot will be sold at four outlets in the Halifax area and at stores in Amherst, Truro, New Glasgow, Sydney River, and Yarmouth, Justice Minister Mark Furey said.
The province's plan leaves out two significant regions altogether – the South Shore and Annapolis Valley.
Furey said while he realizes there are "gaps in the map," the liquor corporation will offer online sales with home delivery and the public will also be able to grow up to four plants per household.
"I think the model of delivery and the numbers of stores is one factor in the availability," said Furey. "We believe the alternate options of purchase are reasonable and will afford those Nova Scotians who choose to consume an opportunity to access product."
By contrast, neighbouring New Brunswick plans to open 20 stand-alone stores in 15 communities, while Ontario has plans for 40 stores in 14 municipalities.
Furey was asked by reporters whether people in underserviced areas would simply go to the black market rather than drive long distances to buy their weed.
The minister said there are still a lot of "market unknowns" when it comes to who will consume the legalized product.
"There's no switch that we are going to flip and transition to the legal recreational market," he said. "This is going to take time. I would be naive to think that we are going to eliminate the black market."
He said cost was also a factor in selecting the stores, which will have to renovate their spaces.
Furey didn't rule out more retail stores in the future, saying the province would do an analysis after the first year to determine sales and market demand.
"From our standpoint we want to be modest and we want to be conservative and at the same time evolve with the industry," said Bret Mitchell, the liquor corporation's president and CEO.
Mitchell said the chosen stores would use space formerly taken up by make-your-own wine products, which would be discontinued. Product will be sold in enclosed areas by trained staff who will dispense it from behind the counter – there will be no open displays.
One of the Halifax locations will see the reopening of the former Clyde Street store in the city's downtown, which will sell cannabis exclusively.
Mitchell said the liquor corporation doesn't expect to make a profit in the first few years of operation.
"Having said that, ultimately what's going to matter is the cost of acquisition of the actual product itself, and that will determine if there's going to be any (profit)," he said.
Mitchell also said price will also be a factor. He said prices will vary depending upon the strain and characteristics of the cannabis, but in general they will likely have to be less than $10 per gram "for sure."
Karla MacFarlane, the Interim leader of the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, questioned why certain areas of the province are being left out.
She said it appears the government is opting for cost considerations over health and safety.
"Obviously this is a great indication that we are going to see a fostering of the black market continue."
In a news release, NDP justice critic Claudia Chender also raised black market concerns.
"The Liberal government's approach to cannabis regulation continues to raise more questions than provide answers," Chender said.
The full list of stores:
Amherst – 126 South Albion St.
Dartmouth – 650 Portland St.
Halifax – 5540 Clyde St.
Halifax – 3601 Joseph Howe Dr.
Lower Sackville – 752 Sackville Dr.
New Glasgow – 610 East River Rd.
Sydney River – 95 Keltic Dr.
Truro – 6 Court St.
Yarmouth – 104a Starrs Rd.