New Brunswick’s bill to add new “private” CannabisNB stores moves one step closer to law

| Staff

New Brunswick’s new bill to add around a dozen more “privately owned” CannabisNB stores to rural parts of the province has move one more step to becoming law.

Bill 79, an Act Respecting the Retail Sale of Cannabis was first tabled in the House late last year

The legislation would allow Cannabis NB—the existing provincial cannabis regulator, distributor, and retailer—to expand its services to allow privately-run CannabisNB stores to operate in the province.

The bill would allow for cannabis farmgate stores, although the province already began allowing such retailers earlier this year. Two are currently licensed in New Brunswick with at least one more approved and expected to be opened this year.  

New Brunswick currently has a network of 20 publicly-run cannabis stores. If passed, Bill 79 would open an RFP process later this year to award about a dozen new stores in rural parts of New Brunswick, to try and provide competition with a thriving black market in the province. 

According to New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves, who tabled the bill, there are currently about 113 unlicenced cannabis stores operating in the province, mostly operating in rural parts of the province. About half of these locations operate on First Nations land, says Steeves. 

Liberal MLA Rob McKee has called for a pause in the process to consult with First Nations communities in the province to see their interest in the process, saying that there is a “legal grey area on cannabis production or retail on reserve lands.”

Steeves maintains that First Nations communities in New Brunswick can apply through the RFP process for a store, and that New Brunswick maintains the sole authority for management of cannabis retail in the province, including First Nations communities. 

“We want a single regulated cannabis market,” said Steeves. 

“We’ve got to get rid of the black market as best we can. Certainly if you live in King County or something like that, it’s a whole lot easier to go to Johnny down the street who delivers, than it is to go to Dieppe or Moncton,” added Steeves.

A representative for Minister Steeve’s office says the the provincial government “values its relationship with First Nation communities and is currently engaged in discussion with many communities around items of mutual interest, including economic development opportunities, revenue sharing and related issues. To ensure alignment across GNB, we will keep these discussions in mind as we move forward on the cannabis file.” 

“The province is engaged in specific initiatives with First Nation Communities. When it comes to enforcement, that mandate resides with the RCMP or policing agencies of jurisdiction.”

Kris Austin, the MLA for Fredericton-Grand Lake and the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick Party Leader questioned Steeves on how only a dozen new stores will combat the black market when there are more than 100 illegal, unlicensed stores according to the Finance Minister. 

The bill will now move back to the House of Commons for final reading before it will face a final vote. If passed, the RFP process for new cannabis stores will begin in late spring or early summer, says Steeves.