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Report on Business Cannabis Professional Alberta’s pace of new retail pot permits slows after AGLC clears licence freeze backlog

HIGHLIGHTS
  1. AGLC clears all pre-approved retail licences in queue, catches up from moratorium backlog
  2. Alberta cannabis retailers have filed an additional 470 licence applications at various stages
  3. Spiritleaf holds most retail cannabis licences in Alberta at 26, Newleaf has 25

The flurry of new retail cannabis licences being issued in Alberta has started to slow down after improved supplies spurred the provincial regulator to issue an additional 167 permits in the past 2-1/2 months, making the western province the epicenter for legal pot chains to establish footholds before venturing into the larger consumer market in Ontario.

While there are still 470 applications pending at various stages of the licensing process, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) – the provincial regulator and sole wholesaler of recreational cannabis in the region – has granted just 12 so far this week. This follows roughly 1-1/2 months of issuing 20 licences each week, creating a hiring frenzy for new store managers and increased sales opportunities for licensed producers.

In November 2018, AGLC surprised potential retailers by placing a freeze on new licences just weeks after recreational pot was legalized in Canada, when it became clear that LPs had not grown enough pot to meet nationwide demand and keep store shelves stocked. When Alberta’s moratorium was lifted in late May, more than 100 pre-approved applications were already waiting in a queue, which was steadily reduced each week.

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“We are pleased to confirm that the previous queue of retailers approved for licensing has been cleared and AGLC has resumed normal operations. We’re not playing catch-up from the moratorium anymore,” said Heather Holmen, AGLC spokeswoman.

“We expect that the licensing process will slow down now that the queue is cleared. I can't speculate if there will or will not be any licences issued as soon as next week.”

Alberta holds the bulk of legal pot shops in Canada due to the province’s privatization of retail cannabis. So far this week, Alberta’s tally of retail cannabis licences reached 268. While many of these have not yet opened their doors, this number of licences exceeds the 250 open stores that AGLC had expected would open by October 2019.

The government agency will re-evaluate its store number expectations in October, Ms. Holmen said, adding that individual retailers are not permitted to hold more than 15 per cent of market share in Alberta.

Spiritleaf, owned by Inner Spirit Holdings Ltd., holds the most licences in Alberta at 26, followed by National Access Cannabis Corp.’s Newleaf at 25. Canna Cabana, which is owned by High Tide Inc., now has 19 retail licences in the province, followed by Fire and Flower with 17, according to AGLC’s website.

Ontario, on the other hand, has just 25 legal retail cannabis stores open, and is set to grant licences to another 50 business owners, with the right to apply for 42 to be chosen through a lottery system next week and the remaining eight given set aside for First Nations on a first come, first serve basis.

Ontario’s population is more than three times that of Alberta.

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Since Alberta initially placed a freeze on new licences in late 2018, the AGLC has doubled the number of LPs from which it buys product. While adult-use cannabis products available to the AGLC increases, the provincial wholesaler’s supplies have not been negatively impacted by CannTrust Holdings Inc., Ms. Holmen said.

CannTrust recently halted sales after thousands of kilograms of marijuana were discovered to have been cultivated in unlicensed rooms, shaking the burgeoning industry and causing stocks to tumble.

“Regarding CannTrust, they are one of 31 licensed producers in Alberta and with supply continuing to improve consistently, we are in a good supply situation regardless of their ability to provide to the market,” she said.

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