N.W.T.'s first private pot stores get green light from government

·3 min read

The Northwest Territories' first private retailers of cannabis will open their doors soon, after the government announced final approval in a press release Tuesday morning.

Two stores, ReLeaf NT and Trailblazers Cannabis Shop, were named in the release.

ReLeaf has been operating as a cannabis accessories store since early April of last year from a storefront at 5123 51st St. in Yellowknife. Luke Wood, the proprietor, has been a vocal advocate for private retail since legalization.

ReLeaf won the right to operate as a private retailer after completing an extensive application process for the territory's single license, issued as a request-for-proposals in May.

Trailblazers Cannabis Shop, by contrast, appears to be the creation of the Yellowknife Liquor Shop, which has been the city's sole retail cannabis location for the past two years.

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC
Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

Responding to concerns identified more than two years ago that selling alcohol and cannabis in the same place could lead to abuse, the territorial government "and the Yellowknife Liquor Shop agreed to separate liquor sales and cannabis sales," the release reads.

The new, cannabis-only retailer will occupy a nearby unit in the same strip mall as the Yellowknife Liquor Shop at 100 Borden Drive in Yellowknife.

"Cannabis will no longer be available for purchase at the Yellowknife Liquor Shop," the release reads.

Big plans for cannabis shop, says owner

At his shop Tuesday evening, Wood was doing some final preparations before opening for business with cannabis for sale.

Before COVID-19, Wood's shop sold accessories, records, and tools for growing cannabis. The store still has remnants of that inventory, like grow lights and a display of glass pipes. for sale and a display of glass pipes.

But Wood said there's a major difference between running a cannabis-lifestyle store and a shop that also actually sells the product: "Customers."

Katie Toth/CBC
Katie Toth/CBC

"We wanted to hit the ground running so we opened this [store]," he said. "But it's been very slow. And then COVID[-19] hit."

Now that the store has its retail licence, Wood wants to bring in books on safe consumption and cooking and bolster the shop's record collection. He said he's even thinking about starting an internet radio station.

He also wants to start selling products from local artists, a move he hopes will "reach out to the community ... and get rid of the stigma" around cannabis.

High hurdles for new operators

In the last year, cannabis sales generated more than $3.5 million worth of revenue in the N.W.T., according to numbers from the NTLCC. More than $2 million of that was spent in Yellowknife alone.

In the N.W.T., the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission (NTLCC) is the only legal wholesaler of cannabis. Private retailers must purchase their stock from the commission's limited selection and comply with strict health and safety requirements to operate.

Any would-be retailers must follow a 23-page information guide in preparing their application to operate, which includes getting the government's final sign-off on everything from the store's displays to its name.

Wood said his licence took 18 months to secure. Now that he's got it, he said he expects his biggest competition will be with the grey market.

People who buy weed from non-licensed suppliers say they find the product is cheaper and more consistently available, he said. But Wood hopes his shop can "take away the mystery" for people who are new to the drug.

"There's.a huge, bright future," he said. "It's just the beginning of the whole thing."