After an “uptick” in Alberta cannabis store robberies, a voice for retailers in the province is calling on the industry’s regulator to look past rules that keep wares — and opportunistic criminals — hidden.
In a letter obtained by Postmedia, the Alberta Cannabis Council, which represents more than 60 companies in the industry, called on Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) to temporarily stop enforcing rules requiring retailers to hide their sales floors from outside view.
According to sections 29 and 30 of the federal Cannabis Act, authorized sellers are prohibited from displaying cannabis products, accessories or packaging in a way that a young person might lay eyes on them. To meet that requirement, the letter noted, most retailers end up covering their windows or positioning walls to block the sight of inventory from outside the store.
Citing a rash of robberies at Calgary shops, council chair Scott Treasure addressed the letter, dated Thursday, to AGLC president and CEO Kandice Machado, asking the regulator to offer some form of relief in lieu of action from Ottawa.
“Because cannabis retailers are effectively required to make it impossible to see inside their stores from the outside, it is relatively simple for criminals to enter a store, lock the door, and proceed with their robbery without attracting attention from anyone outside,” the letter said, adding the crimes have caused physical and emotional harm to employees. “This is exactly what has been happening to our stores, with increasing regularity.”
According to Calgary police, the city has seen an “uptick” in cannabis store robberies over the past 18 months with 29 recorded in 2021 and 13 in 2022 as of Friday morning. In Edmonton, however, local police note a total of nine incidents in the city since 2018.
In a Friday email statement, AGLC spokesperson Chara Goodings told Postmedia the robberies are a major concern, but reiterated that product visibility rules fall under federal law, and the regulator is working with relevant parties, including police, to explore other options.
However, the statement added, while retailers aren’t limited to blocking visibility at the store’s exterior, they still need to comply with legislation and policy, and encouraged them to work with AGLC inspectors to explore safeguards to protect staff.
In an interview with Postmedia, Treasure, also an owner of The Local Cannabist in west Edmonton, said the suggestion of alternative compliance measures under current law offers little solace to retailers.
“They’re saying ‘they don’t have to have window coverings, (people outside) just can’t see the product,’ but then you would have to block out your product inside your store,” Treasure said. “I don’t think that’s a viable solution for any retailer.”
Besides setting cannabis stores apart from comparable shops such as liquor stores, which aren’t bound by the same restriction, the rule contributes to historical stigma around cannabis, places a target on authorized sellers, and needs to be scrapped, Treasure added.
In an email statement, Health Canada spokesperson Mark Johnson told Postmedia the visibility restriction is identical to those that apply to tobacco products, and are intended to prevent influences that may contribute to youth cannabis use.
However, he added, Ottawa is preparing for legislative review of the Cannabis Act, and will consider its effect on the health and consumption habits of youth.
The council has asked AGLC to cease enforcement of the visibility restriction until after the review and work with industry to change legislation.
The regulator said Alberta Treasury Board and Finance plans to participate in the review on behalf of the regulator and the province.
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