A bill that would open up New Brunswick to private retail cannabis stores was presented today by Finance Minister Ernie Steeves.
The bill, entitled “An Act Respecting the Retail Sale of Cannabis” was given first reading today in the Legislative Assembly.
The legislation, explained Steeves, would allow Cannabis NB—the existing provincial cannabis regulator, distributor, and retailer—to expand its services to allow private cannabis stores to operate in the province, as well as public retail stores.
Steeves also mentioned the bill would allow for cannabis farmgate stores, although the province already announced plans to begin allowing such retailers earlier this year. Two are currently licensed in New Brunswick.
The reason for this change, says Steeves, is to help combat what he describes as a large amount of illegal cannabis retail stores in the province.
Update: According to Global News, Steeves now says the stores, while privately owned, will still operate under the Cannabis NB banner. “It’ll be like a mini Cannabis NB store,” he said Tuesday.
A report that was released in late September looked at samples of several cannabis products obtained from the licit and illicit markets in New Brunswick, both dried flower as well as various edibles, and tested them for things like THC levels, moulds, heavy metals and pesticides.
New Brunswick currently has a network of 20 publicly-run cannabis stores.
The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick initially tried to do away with the public retail system entirely. On November 14, 2019, the province issued the request for proposals (RFP) to take over Cannabis NB.
After long delays, that plan was eventually scrapped in March 2021 after facing public pressure and scrutiny. The reasoning given by the government at the time for this proposal was that Cannabis NB was losing money, although the crown corporation has since then shown increasing profits as sales increased and it recouped initial startup costs.
In March of this year, a group representing New Brunswick cannabis producers, industry associations, and the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustin called on the province to halt the potential sale of Cannabis NB to a private company.
Although most stakeholders who presented to the working group say they strongly supported a government-controlled retail model, some say they were open to the eventual expansion to include private retailers and allowing cannabis producers to retail. Their opposition, they say, was not to privatization in general, but the sale of the entire government infrastructure to one private company.
A provincial working group put together by the New Brunswick government in 2017 came to the conclusion that New Brunswick’s interests would best be served by a provincial Crown corporation-operated retail model for cannabis.