After years of lobbying efforts by the Alberta Cannabis Council and many cannabis retailers operating throughout Alberta, and amid heightened concern for the health and safety of cannabis store employees after a rash of robberies, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) has decided to delete Section 3.2.6 under Premises Requirements within the Retail Cannabis Store Handbook (RCSH).
The legislation, which was deleted on Tuesday, August 9, 2022, prohibited cannabis products, accessories, as well as any other cannabis-related items or materials from being visible from the exterior of a cannabis store’s premises. In effect, it’s a legislation that forced cannabis store operators to place coverings on their store façade windows, blocking all view from the outside. Cannabis retailers operating across the province received communication from the AGLC Tuesday morning advising them of their decision to delete the legislation.
Concerns Around Safety
It’s a decision by Alberta regulators that follows a rising trend of cannabis store robberies that occurred throughout the province over the course of the past year-and-a-half. In fact, there were 29 confirmed robberies of cannabis establishments throughout 2021, in addition to an estimated 10 more so far this year—all within the city of Calgary, alone. It’s a rash of robberies that has included the threat or use of violence in order to perpetrate the crimes, sparking action from regulators who have responded out of a concern for the safety of cannabis store employees. And, according to Joshua Vera, founder and president of Elevate Cannabis in Edmonton, it’s a decision that’s been a long time coming.
“This is a decision that we as cannabis retailers operating in Alberta have been extremely vocal about with the AGLC,” he asserts. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this amendment to legislation. And we’re just pleased to finally have full transparency into and out of our stores, creating a safer environment for patrons to shop and for employees to work in.”
Step in the Right Direction
Vera goes on to explain that although the decision to allow for the removal of cannabis store window coverings was driven by a concern over the rise of violent crimes, he believes that it reflects a positive step on the slow road toward recognition by their communities as credible businesses and the removal of negative stigmas that continue to exist around the industry.
“We have nothing to hid,” he says. “There’s nothing illegal inside of our stores. And, we aren’t doing anything that should be considered taboo. We’ve all gone through the rigors, hoops, and hurdles to get to where we are. And, this change signifies not only positive progress toward a safer cannabis store environment, but toward a legitimization of the industry and the operators and employees that help support its continued growth.”
In a statement, AGLC has expressed “deep concern” about the rise in violent robberies that are being committed against cannabis retailers and notes that they have been working hard with local law enforcement and retailers in an effort to curb the situation and enhance the security and safety of everyone involved.
It’s a move that some think, given the impetus behind it, could very well help set a precedent in other provinces and territories across the country. Councillors in Winnipeg, for instance, have already been reviewing the removal of legislation related to cannabis store window coverings. And, prior to Winnipeg’s deliberation, in June of 2020, British Columbia regulators made the decision to allow for their removal. Other provinces, including Ontario, have yet to make a similar move. However, given concern over the health and safety of cannabis store employees, their patrons, and surrounding communities, other provinces should follow suit.
Not a Marketing Opportunity
Despite the removal of the legislation in Alberta, however, regulators warned that it’s an action meant to help prevent violent crimes from taking place on cannabis store premises and not an opportunity to promote the store’s wares and product. And, according to Vera, it’s a sentiment that is well understood by those operating within the Alberta cannabis industry.
“Replacing store window coverings with advertising and promotions would defeat the purpose of the changed legislation,” he suggests. “This wasn’t done with the intent of opening up the opportunity to do so. It’s not the spirit of the change. It was done solely with the safety and security of industry members in mind and to help create a safer and more comfortable environment for the public.”
Evolving and Maturing Industry
Vera notes that the decision, regardless of the drivers behind it, is an extremely positive one for those involved in servicing a growing Alberta cannabis market, and part of a natural evolution and maturity of the industry.
“I knew when legalization passed in 2018 that, as a new industry, there were going to be some growing pains along the way. And, I also understand and appreciate that it’s easier to start off a little more restrictive and open regulations up, rather than going in the other direction and trying to reel things in. So, this decision represents a really positive step in the right direction, and it’s one that every cannabis retailer operating in Alberta was very pleased to hear about. It results in transparency and openness into what we’re doing and helps us create a stronger connection to the communities we serve.”