Dedicated cannabis retailers and rural hotels will get the first chance to open licensed marijuana stores in seven rural Manitoba communities, the provincial government announced Thursday.
The seven winners of the province's second cannabis retail lottery will have 10 days to decide whether they want to operate the stores or pass the opportunity on to runners-up.
A company that confirms its intention to proceed will sign an agreement with the province and apply for the necessary licence from the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority, as well as any municipal licences that might be required.
A provincial spokesperson said retailers have 90 days from Thursday to sign the provincial store agreement, and expects retailers to work towards opening a physical outlet as quickly as possible.
In southeastern Manitoba, first dibs in Altona will go to Westleaf Inc., an Alberta firm that describes itself as a "vertically integrated cannabis company" with interests in production and retail. Winnipeg's Viscount Gort Motor Hotel Ltd., won the chance to open a shop in Lac du Bonnet, and the opportunity in Niverville went to Canna Cabana Inc., a subsidiary of Calgary-based cannabis retail firm High Tide Inc.
Four rural cannabis stores are slated to open along Manitoba's western border. In Virden, the winner is a company called Northern Hotel. An Ontario corporation called the Corktown Cannabis Company won in the Rural Municipality of Russell-Binscarth. Further north in Swan River, Alberta-based cannabis retailer Fire & Flower won the draw. The winner in Flin Flon is Garden Variety, which already operates two licensed cannabis stores in Winnipeg.
The random draw for retail stores in rural Manitoba is part of the provincial government's plan to make government-regulated cannabis accessible within a 30-minute drive for 90 per cent of the province's population. Nearly 100 companies applied for the draw following a July 2018 request for pre-qualification.
The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority has issued 23 licences for cannabis shops in Manitoba to date; 13 are in Winnipeg and four are in Brandon. Portage la Prairie has two, including one partly owned by the Long Plain First Nation. Dauphin, Morden and Thompson each have one, and a store has also opened on Opaskwayak Cree Nation land near The Pas.
Solomon Israel is the full-time cannabis reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and its national cannabis news website, TheLeafNews.com. He covers the social, legal, medical and scientific aspects of marijuana legalization in Manitoba and the rest of Canada.