Liquor company eyes converting stores to cannabis

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Whether Olds’ or Innisfail’s Liquor Stores N.A. locations are being eyed for conversion to retail cannabis outlets is unclear.

Aurora Cannabis closed a deal in recent weeks to purchase a 19.9 per cent stake in the liquor store company that operates under the brands Liquor Depot and Liquor Barn.

Company spokespeople say some of the existing liquor stores will be converted to cannabis retail sales while other new locations for cannabis retail stores will be opened, although it’s too early to say where those locations might be.

“We can’t speak to that just yet, we will have more information coming out over the coming weeks with respect to the anticipated locations of the stores and the number of stores that will be converted from liquor to cannabis,” said Cam Battley, the chief corporate officer for Aurora Cannabis in an interview.

“We have deep experience on our team among people who have worked at dispensaries in British Columbia, so as part of this partnership we’ll be relying on Liquor Stores N.A. to help us rapidly get set up to be able to serve the consumer market from Day 1,” Battley said.

Battley said Aurora Cannabis would be designing the interiors of the stores with an eye to a positive customer experience, but also safety.

Currently Aurora Cannabis’s facilities focus on producing medical cannabis for the Canadian and global markets. The company’s products for retail sale, once legalization occurs, will be the same as offered to the medical market.

“At Aurora there’s no difference, we produce all our cannabis up to the same standards, we call it the Aurora standard of quality and consistency,” Battley said. He highlighted the company’s rigorous testing standards and disclosure practices.

Aurora is operating three Canadian facilities — one in Mountain View County, one near the Edmonton airport and one in Quebec, plus there is an additional Quebec-based facility being completed.

“All of them will be producing cannabis first of all for the Canadian medical market, and we’ve made it very, very clear that our patients come first, then secondly for the Canadian consumer market and then also for export,” Battley said. The company’s also planning a joint venture facility in Denmark.

The Mountain View County location, Aurora Mountain, is already exporting product to Germany, he said.

A representative for Liquor Stores N.A. declined to comment for this story and referred to the press release.

“We are thrilled that our two great Alberta-based companies have joined forces and we are honoured that Aurora has selected Liquor Stores, through its investment, as the retailer poised to establish a leading cannabis brand in Western Canada,” said Liquor Stores CEO James Burns in the press release.

What the exact rules will be for retailers looking to sell cannabis is also unclear.

Federally, legalization may occur later than the July 1 date many were expecting.

Provincially, a framework is in place, as well as legislation giving the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission authority over licensing and sales. However, the precise regulations for retail locations have not yet been released, though the framework indicates that liquor and cannabis can’t be sold together.

Municipalities will also have a say.

Changes are likely needed in many municipalities’ bylaws to allow for the sale of retail cannabis. Different municipalities can further impact regulations around allowable locations via land use bylaw amendments.

In Innisfail, there will definitely need to be amendments to the town’s land use bylaws for cannabis to be sold.

“We will for sure. The land use bylaw will need to be inclusive of that kind of development,” said town CAO Todd Becker. He recently presented to town council about the topic and said town staff will be coming back to council with a work plan after completing that research.

The process in Olds is also in the early stages.

“We are still in the investigation research stage in regards to the legalization of cannabis,” said town CAO Michael Merritt. He said they’re working with a committee formed by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to get more information from the provincial and federal governments.

Changes could possibly be needed for the land use bylaw, Merritt said, and staff will bring information to council at a later date.

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Victoria Paterson is a Calgary-based freelance writer.