Proposed changes to Alta. cannabis laws see higher fines, restrictions on branding

As Alberta gears up to deal with the legalization of cannabis, it’s proposing higher fines for rule-breakers and tighter restrictions on branding, as well as potentially allowing small communities to sell the product differently.

The proposals were outlined in new legislation tabled April 9. It states that Alberta won’t allow retail stores to brand themselves or products as medicinal, therapeutic or pharmaceutical. Using cartoon characters or other images that might attract children for branding purposes would also be prohibited.

“We don’t want them going out there and making it look very palatable to children, and we don’t want them to go out there and suggest the recreational stream has medical benefits,” said Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley during a news conference.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC), which will handle and distribute cannabis to retailers, will review a company’s name and signage to ensure branding is in line with regulations. Companies must sell cannabis in sealed packages, and business owners could be penalized if people smoke or vape the product on their premises if it’s prohibited there.

The AGLC has proposed fines of up to $1 million be handed down to owners who fail to comply with rules, which is much higher than the up to $200,000 penalty currently in place.

As for offences that go to court, the proposals state that officers would be able to prove a substance is in fact cannabis by its smell or packaging, rather than having to rely on a lab test for proof.

The legislation also opens the door for cannabis to be sold differently in small communities.

While it’s up to municipalities to decide where pot can be smoked and whether or not they will allow such stores in their communities, the new legislation proposes a regulation that could potentially allow for small communities to sell cannabis in one-stop shops, or stores that also sell things like groceries or offer postal services.

This regulation is already in place for alcohol sales in such communities, because many of them are so small they can’t support a standalone store. Any businesses that want such set-up would require approval from the AGLC.

The province doesn’t expect cannabis to be sold in these one-stop shops, but is putting in the regulation just in case cabinet ministers want to allow for it in the future.

These proposals are in response to the federal government’s goal of legalizing weed this summer. The fast-approaching deadline has left many communities scrambling and wondering how they can enforce the new rules given the few policing resources they have.

Ganley said while she’s still waiting on the federal government for details on helping municipalities, federal officials have suggested there could be funding for drug enforcement experts.

“But we’re not exactly sure how that’s going to roll out, either,” she said of the potential funding.

As for other changes coming forward in this new legislation, it’s proposed that the AGLC be allowed to charge a wholesale markup on cannabis to recover costs. This is similar to how markups for alcohol are handled.

As well, the AGLC will have the authority to destroy or dispose of any cannabis products sold in stores. This includes any product that has gone stale, has been returned by a customer, or has only been used for display purposes.

The organization plans to change its name to the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission if the proposals are passed. It will have an online sales portal for people looking to purchase the product, and deliveries must be accepted by an adult at the doorstep. The AGLC is still determining who will deliver the product.

The legislation also lays out proposals that tweak alcohol laws in Alberta.

The province is proposing that in-store fermentation be allowed. In other words, people would be able to make beer or wine in stores and then take that product home. As well, bartenders will be allowed to infuse liquor with herbs, spices, fruit and candy. They won’t be allowed to infuse it will cannabis.

The legislation is expected to pass this spring.

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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