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Saskatchewan Getting Rural Stores

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) started accepting cannabis retail store permit applications on April 1st for communities of fewer than 2,500 people, as well as for Shellbrook, Canora and the RM of Corman Park.

After fulfilling the province’s other eligibility requirements, cannabis retail stores must operate a brick-and-mortar store that can either be standalone or integrated with another business and can also sell cannabis online for pick-up and delivery in the province if they choose. The proposed store will have to be approved by the municipality or First Nation before being issued a permit and will be subject to the community’s zoning laws.

“We’ve had the opportunity to consider how Saskatchewan should proceed in the future,” Minister Responsible for SLGA Gene Makowsky said in a press release. “We believe opening the market to more retailers will help meet customer demand while also helping discourage competition from unlicensed stores.”

Currently, there are 43 cannabis retail stores operating in Saskatchewan. Curtis Vetter, Assistant Manager at The Pot Shack, in Saskatoon, doesn’t see a downside to adding more.

“I don’t see any negatives. We currently have guests from rural areas that have no local stores, so they have to come and do a big shop in the city. It will be more convenient for them,” he says, “There are many areas that need more stores.”

According to Statistics Canada, in July 2019 Saskatchewanians had to travel an average of 37 km to shop in person at a cannabis store, and less than 50% live within 10 km of their local shop.

“I think the main benefit is meeting the different needs of the communities. The easier it is to get it, the more prices will drop, the more we can get this ball rolling,” Vetter says. “If there are more choices, I don’t see that being a bad thing for cannabis users.”

Cannabis retail stores are not considered a right for every community, however, and a few hurdles could stand in the way for hopeful applicants. Depending on the size, the average age and cultural beliefs of the community, they may choose to reject the project. Municipalities may also run into zoning issues for the proposed store, or an over-saturation in the market if there are too many stores.

Gordon Barnhart, President of the Municipalities of Saskatchewan, says they have been lobbying the provincial government to share some of the tax profits from the sale of cannabis with the municipalities. As it sits right now, the federal government collects 25% of the taxes and the province gets 75%. From the province’s share, a further 25% is meant to go to the municipalities. According to Barnhart, only two provinces are honouring this agreement, and Saskatchewan isn’t one of them. He says that the province claims that this amount is negligible, but any amount of funds could help cover some of the costs to municipalities associated with passing new bylaws and enforcing impaired driving.

In September 2020, SLGA will begin accepting permit applications for stores in all communities in the province that don’t choose to opt-out.