Marijuana Legalization in Alberta — The Best Way to Legalize Weed

Marijuana Legalization in Alberta — What will it Look Like?

Earlier we walked you through the ins and outs of what legalization will look like in Canada’s two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec. These two neighbors could not be more dissimilar in how they plan to treat marijuana legalization. From a disorganized private sector economy to a highly restrictive, highly conservative, government-owned monopoly, these two will provide a lot of answers to the private vs public sector debate.

So what will marijuana legalization in Alberta look like come October 17?

The Plan

Alberta, like Ontario, has elected to allow marijuana to be run by the private sector… Mostly. Premier Rachel Notley and her administration have elected to mirror the operating procedures of the alcohol industry in Canada’s the capital province, albeit with several improvements. It may come as a surprise that the Notley administration is a part of the NDPs, a party who are traditionally thought of as the most socialist of Canada’s major three.

So how will Alberta get its cannabis? The process is as follows: Various large-scale growers or licensed producers will sell their product in bulk, directly to the AGLC (Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commision). The AGLC will then distribute the marijuana to the various private sector retail stores.

Like Ontario, the provincial government will handle online sales. These will take place directly through the AGLC who will ship weed directly to your door and verify your age upon ordering and receiving the package.

Medical marijuana is the only sector of the cannabis industry that will not involve the AGLC as a middleman. Albertans will continue to receive their medical marijuana directly from licensed producers.

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The Bad

Bouncer guards strip club, Weed legalization in Alberta
Bouncers guarding weed dispensaries reinforces stigmas around weed and makes dispensaries look like seedy strip clubs (image via HuffPost)

So far Alberta’s plan looks like the most polished and well constructed for selling marijuana. However, there are a couple of odd quirks that are worth mentioning. Like Quebec, Alberta plans to treat private cannabis dispensaries like seedy strip clubs as opposed to liquor stores or groceries. Anyone under the age of 18 will be prohibited from entering the store under any circumstances. This will be the case even if said minors are accompanied by a parent, guardian, or adult.

This sends a destructive message. From the perspective of cannabis rights, one of the goals of legalization is the normalization of marijuana. The plant has long been treated as an underworld vice and stigmatized. Meanwhile, the scientific reality of cannabis is quite a bit different.

By preventing minors from being around the plant, Alberta isn’t protecting them from some kind of toxic exposure. Instead, the Notley administration is sending the message that cannabis is some sort of dangerous vice. This will have the undesired effect of making it cooler and more desirable in the eyes of teens. Like alcohol, and tobacco, demanding ID before purchase would have sufficed as a preventative measure.

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The Good

Canadian weed in a jar, Alberta private pot shops
Alberta has put all the right policies in place to ensure that its private sector marijuana dispensaries will be a success (image via Global News)

As far as private sector cannabis goes Alberta is far superior to Ontario in a number of ways. Premier Rachel Notley and her administration seem to have a keen understanding of how or where the free market must be corraled, and where it must be allowed to operate with minimal constraints.

With regards to the latter, Notley has shown a keen awareness of how devastating a corporate monopoly within its cannabis economy could be. If any one company were to gain a monopoly over the cannabis industry, this would be extremely destructive for small business. To this end, no one person or entity can possess more than a 15% ownership of retail licenses in the province. This currently amounts to about 37 retail licenses. This would appear to be more than sufficient to make a fortune in the industry without stifling competition.

This policy will allow Alberta’s domestic marijuana needs to be fulfilled by its local industries. Such a move will promote the growth of small business and undoubtedly prevent foreign capital from taking over an industry that should be grassroots and personal.

However, Alberta is not overly restrictive either. This is evident in its approach to retail licensing. More cannabis stores will mean better access to legal cannabis. This is key to squashing the black market, which is one of the Noltey administration’s stated objectives. Alberta has agreed to place no limits on the number of marijuana dispensaries that are allowed to set up shop. With 533 applications for retail licenses already in, Albertans will have no trouble getting access to legal weed.

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Alberta’s model has been well received by potential consumers and business owners.  Nathan Mison is vice-president of government and stakeholder relations for Fire & Flower. His Ontario based cannabis company plans to transplant itself to the more business-friendly Alberta and has already put in a bid for the maximum number of retail licenses. He had this to say on what marijuana legalization in Alberta will look like,

“Alberta has created a very clear and concise environment, which allows investors, organizations, and retailers to have a level of understanding that is sometimes in flux in other provinces across Canada,”

There is no one perfect system of legalization. If done correctly, both the private and public sectors could uniquely benefit consumers.

However, Alberta undoubtedly represents the best of the private sector Canada has to offer. Premier Rachel Notley has positioned the province to be the center of the cannabis industry in Canada.

By: Stefan Hosko
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