Manitoba's only licenced medical marijuana producer eyes storefront to serve recreational market

Manitoba pot advocates are thrilled to hear the country will legalize marijuana for Canada Day next year.

"I am so excited for what this could bring not only to the cannabis community but also just to the country as a whole," Steven Stairs, a medical cannabis activist, said Monday. "Whether or not from the economic standpoint, social economics, health benefits, just — this is a great day for Canada."

CBC News has learned that in two weeks the federal government will announce recreational marijuana will become legal in Canada July 1, 2018.

Government officials were briefed on the rollout over the weekend. The federal government will be in charge of licensing producers but the provinces will determine the price and how it's distributed.

Ottawa has pegged 18 as the minimum age for purchase but provinces can choose to set the age higher.

The move could mean big business for Manitoba's only Health Canada-approved producer of medical cannabis.

"We're thrilled to have a little bit more certainty in the market," John Arbuthnot, vice-president and co-founder of Delta9.

The company grows and sells 30 varieties of medical marijuana to roughly 1,500 patients across the country. The next step will be expanding production into the recreational market, Arbuthnot said.

"This is a very large market opportunity, something that'll we'll be eager to explore over the next few years as we have more guidance from our federal government and our provincial governments."

The company is already in the process of expanding production. They are retrofitting 15 shipping containers into state-of-the-art marijuana growing chambers.

"Our hopes, here on this site, are to scale up to 600 producing containers by 2020 adding several hundred jobs and an economic impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.

He would also like to begin opening Delta9 storefronts to sell the product but distribution is one of many questions the province will have to address.

Province working to address 'numerous challenges'

In a statement, Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the province is doing extensive research and consultation to prepare for legalization.

"Our government recognizes there are numerous challenges to address while provinces adjust to marijuana legalization in Canada," the statement said. "An area of concern that we have taken a proactive approach on is public safety. Our government recently introduced the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act, which proposes an interim solution that addresses the threat of driver impairment."

It goes on to say there will be a further review of policies once the actual legislation is introduced.

Home grown

The Liberal legislation will also allow Canadians to grow their own marijuana with a limit of four plants per household.

Arbuthnot said the provisions are similar to home-brewing and he's not worried it will undercut business.

Stairs already grows his own plants in a locked cabinet in his basement. While the new legislation won't impact him directly he hopes the province rolls this out right away and says there is risk with being too restrictive.

Manitoba pot bill a 'slap in the face' to medical marijuana users, protesters say

"A solid regulatory framework in order for cannabis sales to be done in Manitoba is crucial towards having a safe cannabis market," he said. "I think the idea is just making sure that the marketplace isn't over-regulated to the point where the black market can still thrive."

The province's proposed Cannabis Harm Prevention Act, introduced earlier this month, would bring in restrictions for marijuana similar to alcohol as the province waits for the federal government's laws.

The province said people will be prohibited from consuming pot behind the wheel, and police will have the right to suspend a driver's licence for 24 hours if a person is believed to be under the influence.

Stairs said medical marijuana users should have been consulted before the bill was introduced. Other medical marijuana experts have said the emphasis on road safety could further stigmatize users.

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