The empty dispensary area of Releaf NT, a new Yellowknife store hoping to one day sell cannabis from this side of the premises. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT government has begun the process of deciding who gets to run cannabis dispensaries in Yellowknife.
A request for qualifications issued by the territory on April 17 – exactly six months after the legalization date of cannabis in Canada – will “pre-screen applicants … to determine their ability to establish a retail cannabis store” in the city.
Currently, cannabis is sold in the Northwest Territories only via government-controlled liquor stores.
The territory had previously committed to drawing up a process by which private dispensaries could earn a licence to sell cannabis.
Any interested parties have until May 29, 2019, to submit their initial application.
After that, up to three applicants will be shortlisted and invited to provide a more detailed proposal.
A similar process got under way in Inuvik and Norman Wells earlier this year.
“This … is specific to Yellowknife and is in response to NTLCC [the territory’s liquor and cannabis commission] receiving requests from residents interested in becoming a cannabis retailer,” said Beau Stobbs, a spokesperson for the territory’s Department of Finance.
Stobbs said the request for qualifications will “determine if interested parties meet the GNWT’s required criteria of becoming a cannabis vendor.”
He said: “Successful respondents … will be invited to participate in a request for proposals process to further evaluate the applicants’ business plans and models.
“Based on the results … the Minister of Finance will consider designating one or more proponents as a cannabis vendor in Yellowknife. This process is expected to take three to six months to complete.”
That means at least one cannabis dispensary could receive permission by the end of the year, though the territory has taken care to state it will not necessarily permit any operator if it feels none have passed the test.
This first step will evaluate the “financial and legal ability” of applicants to run a cannabis dispensary, and their ability to “effectively manage” a store.
Applicants must submit financial documents alongside personal information about all those involved in the bid, including RCMP criminal record checks.
Applications will either pass or fail based on an assessment of the financial and personal data provided.
The territory’s document states reasons for failure could include:
not providing the appropriate criminal record checks;
a criminal record involving charges related to finance, fraud, or drugs;
bankruptcy or commercial insolvency within the past seven years; or
an inability to meet the requirements of insurance agencies or the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission.
Various local entrepreneurs have already stated their intent to pursue such a licence, and five different companies were shown on the territory’s “planholders’ log” for the request for qualifications as of April 24.
Earlier this month, Releaf NT opened as a vape shop in Yellowknife, with the express purpose of later becoming a cannabis dispensary if the territory permits.
“We’ve told them what we want to do and where we are. We’re waiting to hear on that,” John Maduke, co-owner, said as the store opened.