Article by Angela Stelmakowich, Growth Op
The New Brunswick government has opted to pull back away from its search for a private company to take over the province’s cannabis retail, with the move attracting mostly support, but also a call to reset the current approach.
On Friday, the provincial government announced it had discontinued its request for proposal (RFP) process — which kicked off in the late fall of 2019 and was rumoured to be down to one serious suitor — for privatizing recreational cannabis retail in New Brunswick.
The idea had been to attract a single private operator to assume cannabis retail rights currently held by Cannabis NB. Up for sale was not Cannabis NB, but, rather, the rights to operate recreational cannabis retail, wholesale/distribution and e-commerce in the province on an exclusive basis over a period of 10 years, with two five-year renewal periods.
By the time the RFP deadline came in January 2020, it had attracted applications from eight companies: Canopy Growth Corporation, Fire & Flower Inc., Green Stop Cannabis Ltd., Kiaro Brands Inc., Loblaw Companies Limited, New Brunswick Association of Cannabis Distributors, RSL NB and YSS Corp. The name of the suitor that made it the most recent negotiations with the province has not been formally named.
“Discussions with the top-ranked proponent have concluded and our government has decided that the best approach for New Brunswickers is to continue with the Cannabis NB model that is now in place,” Premier Blaine Higgs said in a statement Friday, offering his thanks for the input received and the patience of parties involved.
Telling reporters Friday that there was no penalty for maintaining provincial weed retail as is, the decision to “maintain the status quo” was reached following an independent negotiation process that did not involve government and then a review of the options with government officials, Higgs said, according to CBC.
“Thank God that the premier came to his senses and understood the benefits of having Cannabis NB as a Crown corporation,” Liberal leader Roger Melanson said, per CBC.
That sentiment was, at least partly, echoed in a joint letter — signed by cannabis producers, industry associations and First Nations representatives — sent to Premier Higgs and other provincial government officials earlier this month. The letter had called for the immediate halt of negotiations on selling cannabis retail rights in New Brunswick and, instead, consulting fully with all stakeholders to chart a map forward, reports StratCann.
“We believe that selling Cannabis NB to an outside-the-province provider will lead to a net loss of jobs here at home,” and leave New Brunswick managers, cultivators and Indigenous entrepreneurs “looking in from the outside,” StratCann quotes the 10 signatories as writing. “We believe that profits that could be returned to the province of New Brunswick will instead be used to fund investments in other, larger, markets across Canada such as Alberta, Quebec and Ontario,” the letter states.
Liberal MLA Robert McKee tweeted at the time: “Do you think the rights to sale and distribution of cannabis in NB should be given to an outside corporation with no ties to NB that would favour its own product to the detriment of local producers who have poured millions into the NB economy? I don’t…”
With the announcement to maintain the current retail model, Green Party MLA Kevin Arsenault says he thinks it was the right decision to take. “Now, we can also improve the model that we have,” Arsenault suggests, including bringing more local companies into the retail fold, according to CTV News Atlantic.
The New Brunswick Craft Cannabis Association seems ready to provide its input. “Invitation to NB Govt: let’s now begin the hard-work together of making NB a cannabis power-house! Data-based cannabis policy would be a good start. We have some ideas, phone us!” the association tweeted Friday.
Kris Austin, leader of New Brunswick’s People’s Alliance, also agrees with the decision to not sell cannabis retail rights to one private company. But that’s because Austin’s vision for selling “never included one company holding a monopoly on marijuana sales in this province,” he notes in a Facebook post.