When the sale of recreational cannabis was legalized across Canada in 2018, each province set its own standards and regulations for the licensing of cannabis retail shops. At the time, Alberta opted to allow licences for brick-and-mortar shops but restricted the online sale of cannabis products to a provincially run shop overseen by the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC). This is similar to how cannabis retail operates in other provinces, such as Ontario. However, as of March 8, 2022, the AGLC has shuttered its e-commerce business and private retailers are now permitted to enter the online sales market thanks to changes introduced under Alberta’s Bill 80, the Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, 2021 (No. 2).

With the AGLC withdrawing its online cannabis retail presence, the organization expects to reduce its annual profits by approximately $800,000 annually. As of March 7, 2022, the AGLC had already given the go-ahead to five private retail companies, representing 74 physical retail locations in the province, to commence online sales. The CEO of the AGLC, Kandice Machado, said the change will benefit both private retailers and consumers:

This update will provide licensed cannabis retailers new revenue opportunities and enhance consumer convenience. These changes will also encourage industry innovation, private sector investment and diversification to meet the needs of this growing sector.

Changes Address Criticisms of Provincial Monopoly on Online Sales

One of the criticisms facing provinces that maintain exclusive control of e-commerce cannabis sales is that they are generally the exclusive wholesalers to all private cannabis retailers within their borders. Rather than allowing shops to purchase directly from producers, the provinces have opted to act as the wholesaler, purchasing products from producers and then selling them to retailers. This was done to provide provincial oversight for the products being sold in stores; however, some have criticized the fact that provinces are also competitors of private retail businesses. When a province is the wholesaler, purchasing directly from the producer, it creates an opportunity to hoard high-demand items while also allowing the government to profit from sales to retailers who are additionally responsible for rent, utilities, and labour expenses.

Retailer Regulations for E-Commerce Cannabis Sales in Alberta

Before the recent changes in Alberta, private retailers were permitted to sell products online, but only if the customer picked up the product in person at the point of sale. As of March 8, 2022, retailers can now sell products to customers and ship or deliver the items purchased. However, several requirements must be met first.

Selling Cannabis Online

  • To operate an online retail shop for cannabis products, the retailer must also operate a brick-and-mortar shop. Retailers are not permitted to offer online-only services.
  • The retail website must receive an endorsement from the Alberta Liquor, Gambling, and Cannabis Commission’s Inspection Branch, to ensure it is compliant with all federal and provincial laws, as well as ALGC policy. Once a website is approved, it will be subject to further inspections to ensure ongoing compliance over time.
  • Retailers will be responsible for ensuring that minors under the age of 18 cannot create accounts or access cannabis promoting information on their websites through the use of age-verification gatekeeping tactics outlined in the updated retailer manual.
  • Websites must prominently display certain information, such as:
    • All of the licencee’s licence numbers
    • All licenced premises names
    • The physical address of all licenced premises
    • Mandatory social responsibility information provided by the ALGC
    • A link to the ALGC licenced cannabis retailer search page.
  • Retailers must conduct transactions directly with customers without using third-party apps or websites, such as PayPal.
  • All sales must occur within Alberta, and individual orders may not exceed 30 grams of dried cannabis or the equivalent.

Cannabis Delivery Services

In addition to the requirements for individual websites, private retailers in Alberta must follow several regulations when it comes to delivering the product to customers, including:

  • Retailers may deliver product using their staff (for local deliveries) or through the use of common carriers, such as the postal service or national courier or shipping companies (for long-distance shipping within the province)
  • All delivery persons must be at least 18 years of age
  • Any shop employees who will be making deliveries must have SellSafe training certification, provided through the AGLC, and must carry a copy of the retail licence when conducting deliveries
  • Deliveries can only be made in Alberta in areas where cannabis possession is legal
  • Delivery persons must check the customer’s government-issued photo ID if they appear to be under the age of 25

How to Tell if an Online Cannabis Retailer is Legitimate

Alberta is the fourth province or territory to allow private retailers to sell cannabis products online, joining Nunavut, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. With several provinces now allowing private online sales, some consumers may have difficulty determining if an online cannabis retailer is a legitimate, licensed operation. If an operation is not licensed, consumers risk purchasing products that have not been subject to inspection or do not meet legal caps on potency or other controls. To tell the difference between legal and illegal retail sites, the federal government has put together a list of red flags to watch out for:

  • The website does not require a user to verify their age
  • The website offers products in packaging that could appeal to minors or that mimics name-brand packaging or product design
  • The site ships products anywhere in Canada (legitimate online shops are restricted to their specific province or territory)
  • Customers are asked to pay by e-transfer or cryptocurrency rather than by credit card

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