Some Winnipeg cannabis retailers concerned with province allowing sales in gas stations

| David Brown

Some retailers in Winnipeg say they are frustrated by the province issuing a retail cannabis licence to a gas station/convenience store, something they worry could be a new trend.   

The province maintains that such licences—the retail cannabis controlled-access store licence—have been available since 2018, with the first issued in December 2020. Eight such locations are now licensed.

Melanie Bekevich, the owner of Mistik Cannabis in Winnipeg, says she only heard about a new cannabis “C store” in Winnipeg Beach after a friend recently visited the store for gas and overheard someone buying pre-rolls at the gas station counter. 

Although she says she’s aware of other C-Stores in Manitoba that hold a ‘store within store’ retail cannabis space, the ability for a convenience store owner to sell cannabis struck her as out of line with the province’s own rules and mandate. 

“I am shocked by it,” says Bekevich. I can understand in small, rural communities… but there should be some controls, especially if they’re saying they’re going to keep it out of the hands of youth, but then they’re directly exposing youth to the transaction. 

“We’re also required to make a significantly bigger investment,” she adds. “I’m a bit confused by what is happening in the province.” 

Lisa Hansen, a communications analyst with the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba (LGCA), the regulatory agency that licences retail cannabis stores in the province, says all licensed cannabis retailers, regardless of licence type, cannot sell cannabis to anyone younger than 19 years old, and their staff must ask customers who appear young for ID to verify their age. 

“All staff who sell cannabis and store managers must successfully complete the LGCA’s Smart Choices Cannabis Retail Certification training before starting work in a store,” she notes. “This training focuses on legal and safety obligations such as checking ID and not selling to minors or intoxicated people.”

Sharon Clark, the manager at Big Buds Cannabis Sales Ltd, also in Winnipeg, says the government is contradicting their own rules when it comes to protecting kids because there are no controls in place to prevent young people from seeing and hearing transactions involving cannabis—something not allowed in standard retail cannabis stores. 

“They are knowingly putting youth in a situation where they are going to be watching cannabis transactions taking place. This is in direct contravention of their own guidelines and rules. That is inherently wrong because part of their mandate is to protect youth, and now they’re directly exposing youth by actively pursuing this licensing tier.”

Another double standard, according to Clark, is that the cost requirement for controlled-access stores is much less than for stores like hers, which she says can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars meeting strict provincial security standards. 

“They don’t need to make a significant investment that we did and other stores did. They just need a locking drawer and a safe place for the cannabis.”

StratCann reached out to the DOMO – Interlake C-Store in Winnipeg Beach for comment but did not hear back by press time. An employee says the store began selling cannabis in late July.