City of Medicine Hat staying hands off as more cannabis retailers open

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On Saturday, two new cannabis retail locations opened up shop in the ‘Gas City’ including Choom Cannabis on 3rd Street Southeast and Spiritleaf on Trans-Canada Way.

That’s brought Medicine Hat’s marketplace to double-digits, with 11 locations approved to sell recreational cannabis in the city.

Mayor Ted Clugston said he’s heard from a handful of these owners who say the market is becoming over saturated.

“I’ve had some business owners come to me that actually own retail outlets say, ‘I think there’s too many,’” said Clugston. “We took the approach here at City Hall that it will sort itself out.”

Among Alberta’s nine largest cities, Medicine Hat has the most cannabis stores per capita with one retailer for every 5,750 residents.

That’s almost 200 residents fewer than the next closest municipality in Grande Prairie and over 15,000 residents fewer than Alberta’s largest centres in Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer.

In comparison, Medicine Hat has as many cannabis retailer locations as Red Deer and Airdrie combined.

AGLC is responsible for issuing licenses for prospective cannabis retailers, with Medicine Hat’s market almost quadrupling over the last 10 months.

However, spokesperson Heather Holmen said the onus on any regulating of the market falls on Alberta’s cities, towns, and villages.

“I think that decision would perhaps lie a little bit more with the municipality in terms of who they are authorizing to operate cannabis businesses,” said Holmen. “AGLC will not issue a retail cannabis license if a proponent or a prospective retailer has not obtained municipal approval from the jurisdiction in which they wish to operate their business.”

Since legalization in October last year, Medicine Hat has taken a hands off approach giving business licences to any entrepreneur who meets the criteria.

While some other municipalities have capped the number of cannabis stores in their communities, Clugston said he didn’t want to take that stance.

“I don’t want to be the person to shatter your dream,” said Clugston. “If it has always been your dream to have one of these locations and open up a retail shop, who am I to say whether or not you’re going to make it, who am I to say whether or not you can do it. So, that’s kind of the attitude we’ve taken in Medicine Hat.”

According to Clugston, their laissez-faire system is meant to limit red tape from City Hall and added it’s the same for any realm of business in Medicine Hat.

“If it’s been your dream to open a model railroad store and there’s 20 of them in Medicine Hat, I’m not going to stand in the way of you wanting to do that,” he said. “Do I think you’re probably going to fail? Yeah probably, but I’m going to let you as the business owner take your chances.”

Clugston also compared the cannabis competition to the city’s liquor store business saying the market should correct itself in the coming months.

“I think there’s 46 liquor stores in the City of Medicine Hat, which a lot of people think is too many,” he said. “But, those do seem to be surviving, how many of the retail marijuana [stores] will survive? I don’t know, but I’m not going to be the gatekeeper on that.”

Entering legalization last year AGLC had estimated 250 businesses would open across the province in the first year of operation.

To date, 267 stores have opened in the first 10 months in Alberta however Holmen said they will not be capping that number either and expect more to open before the one year anniversary.

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