Updated: RFP process for new private CannabisNB stores to begin summer or fall

New Brunswick has now passed legislation to allow for new privately run cannabis stores in the province.

Bill 79, an Act Respecting the Retail Sale of Cannabis, passed third reading in the House on Tuesday, March 29 and received royal assent on April 1.

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

First tabled in the House last year, the bill will allow for around a dozen new, privately run cannabis stores to operate in the province, pending an RFP process in summer or fall.

Note: This article has been edited to note a change in timeline. Although New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves initially said the RFP would be in late spring or summer, a representative for the New Brunswick Finance and Treasury Board now says it will be summer or fall, with an intention for tenders awarded and licenses issued before the end of the year.

Private retail stores will not be under the Cannabis NB brand. Each store will have the opportunity to choose their own name and branding.

New Brunswick currently has a network of 20 publicly-run cannabis stores. Steeves, who tabled the legislation, says the goal of the new bill is to provide better access to rural New Brunswickers not currently served by those 20 stores, while also seeking to provide further pressure on the black market.

According to Steeves, about 113 unlicensed cannabis stores are currently operating in the province, mostly operating in rural parts of the province. About half of these locations operate on First Nations land.

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

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 soon.

CannabisNB is also currently running the second annual CannabisNB Cup in which New Brunswickers can vote on their favourite cannabis products sold in the province. 

The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick initially tried to do away entirely with the public retail system. On November 14, 2019, the province issued the request for proposals (RFP) to take over Cannabis NB

After long delays and facing public pressure, that plan was eventually scrapped in March 2021. 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 February, the provincial agency paid off a $37 million startup loan and is forecasting millions in annual profit for the province moving forward. 

“It’s a historic point for CNB and really solidifies that this is a profitable business,” Lori Stickles, the president and CEO at Alcool NB Liquor & Cannabis NB recently told StratCann. 

“This will be profitable for the province and now all the money we make, every penny we make goes directly into the province, into their funds so they can use that money for important services and programs. For us, it’s just another milestone in our evolution and another way to show that this model does work and we believe that the business has a very long, profitable future ahead of it.”

More information on the RFP process for private cannabis stores in New Brunswick is expected soon.  

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