Eight companies are seeking to take over New Brunswick's recreational cannabis retail operations.
Last year, the provincial government issued a request for proposals for a single, private operator to "undertake the operation, distribution and sales of recreational cannabis in New Brunswick." The deadline was Friday afternoon.
Cannabis NB, the provincially owned and operated cannabis distributor, has been a money-loser since the outset of legalization in October 2018. The Crown corporation runs 20 stores across the province.
The proposals will be evaluated by a third-party fairness monitor over the next few weeks. A single operator could be announced as early as this spring, with the new operator taking over later in the year.
The companies include:
- Fire & Flower Inc. of Alberta
- Green Stop Cannabis Ltd. of Nova Scotia.
- Kiaro Brands Inc., a British Columbia-based company with shops in Vancouver and two locations in Saskatchewan.
- Loblaw Companies Ltd., the company that operates the supermarket chain Atlantic Superstore.
- The New Brunswick Association of Cannabis Distributors.
- RSL NB of New Brunswick.
- YSS Corp., a publicly-traded cannabis retailer with more than a dozen outlets in Alberta.
Finance and Treasury Board Minister Ernie Steeves said in a news release the results show a "strong interest" in Cannabis NB from across the country.
"We will be diligently reviewing the submissions in order to identify the overall best proposal that focuses on public health, education and safety and offers the best value for the New Brunswick taxpayers," Steeves said in the news release.
Proposals will be evaluated based on a number of criteria, including experience in the sale of recreational cannabis, financial capacity, a viable plan to combat the illegal market, price competitiveness and product diversity, and a strong financial offer for the sales rights of cannabis.
Theo Zunich, president and CEO of YSS Corp., grew up in New Brunswick and said the company has connections to the province and experience with 16 stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"It's a great opportunity for us to expand into a new province," he said in an interview Monday. He said the company's staff were excited to file the proposal on Friday.
Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters in Fredericton that he learned of the names of the companies that filed proposals when a news release was issued Monday.
"I will not be involved in it, nor will my colleagues," Higgs said. "It's going through a very rigid analysis."
He said the government wants to ensure it has the best value for provincial taxpayers. He said it will be up to a new operator to determine whether to keep all of the existing stores open.
Steeves has previously said how much the change in operator could cost the province, whether stores open or close and what happens to approximately 250 current employees would depend on the new company.
Zunich declined to comment on the specifics of the company's proposal given a confidentiality clause in the RFP.
"We're very confident that this can be a profitable endeavour for the province, that we can capture that black market," Zunich said.