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In New Brunswick, legalized recreational cannabis seen as green gold

Last Updated Oct 15, 2018 at 7:20 pm EST

When cannabis becomes legally available to buy on Oct. 17, 2018, residents can make their purchases at 20 Cannabis NB retail stores across the New Brunswick. The location in Sackville, N.B. is seen on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

FREDERICTON – The New Brunswick government is hoping legalized cannabis will help ignite the province’s economy — but a possible change in government after a deadlocked election has created uncertainties about how the retail regime might eventually look.

The Liberals under Premier Brian Gallant have seen cannabis as green gold — a chance to create production and retail jobs and rake in profits through the new Crown agency, Cannabis NB.

They announced that marijuana is to be a pillar of the province’s economic strategy, developed a community college program for cannabis technicians, and gave financial assistance to a number of cannabis producers to locate in New Brunswick.

New Brunswick now has three licensed producers: OrganiGram Inc., Tidal Health Solutions Ltd., and Zenabis Ltd.

But the Liberals failed to win a majority in last month’s election and are at risk of being toppled by the Progressive Conservatives when the legislature begins sitting next week.

Tory member Ross Wetmore says his party was in favour of privately run cannabis dispensaries instead of a Crown corporation, but will review the contracts if they form government.

“We’ve already asked to look at the contracts. We’d review the contracts and see what the cost would be to change the model over,” Wetmore said Monday.

“We supported the private model, working with dispensaries. It would have been much cheaper,” he said.

Brian Harriman, the president of Cannabis NB, said the model can be changed, but it would take some time.

“We are essentially operating under a service agreement with the province of New Brunswick. At the end of the day, if the province were to choose other retailers or to switch to a mixed or private market, it’s an option but not something we could turn on overnight,” he said.

Harriman said 6,000 people had applied for 330 Cannabis NB jobs.

The provincial Opportunities NB agency, meantime, said Monday it had expected 600 cannabis-related jobs in the province by the end of 2018 — but were pleasantly surprised.

“Job growth in this sector has exceed expectations and close to 1,000 cannabis-related jobs have already been created in New Brunswick,” a spokesperson said in a statement Monday.

The agency said New Brunswick could have 3,000 cannabis-related jobs by 2022.

Ottawa’s decision to delay the start of sales came at a cost to provincial coffers, though. The New Brunswick government originally forecast retail revenues in the first year of $73 million, but with the start delayed from July to October, the forecast is now $45 million.

Harriman said with overhead and start-up costs, he hopes the 20 stores will at least break even in their first fiscal year.

Those 20 stores — offering weed at prices ranging from $8 to $16 a gram — are a bigger investment than many of the other provinces have made.

In neighbouring Nova Scotia, cannabis will be sold in 12 government-operated stores alongside alcohol. Prince Edward Island will have four government-run retail locations as well, while Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to have more than 20 licensed private retailers on day one.

Ontario won’t have any locations on Oct. 17, but the recently elected Progressive Conservative government plans to have cannabis in private retail stores by April 1, 2019. British Columbia will only have one location, in Kamloops, at the outset.

Quebec is expected to open 12 stores run by the Societe quebecoise du cannabis while the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission has issued 17 interim licences to private retailers.

In Saskatchewan, 51 retail licenses have been issued. In Manitoba, four organizations have been approved to operate shops, allowing them to apply for multiple locations.

In the north, there will be just six brick-and-mortar locations: none in Nunavut, one in the Yukon, and five outlets in the Northwest Territories where cannabis will be sold alongside alcohol.

While New Brunswick has its retail model in place, there’s still work to do on the enforcement side.

John Jurcina, assistant deputy minister of Justice and Public Safety, said as of Monday, police forces in the province had 32 drug recognition experts in place, but the target is to have at least 62 by 2022.

Another target is to have at least 50 per cent of frontline police officers trained in field sobriety tests.

Jurcina said while 49 per cent of municipal police officers have been trained, only 19 per cent of frontline RCMP officers have had the training. He said the RCMP will be prioritized in training this fall.