SQDC: First cannabis stores stocked, poised for grand opening Wednesday

SQDC: First cannabis stores stocked, poised for grand opening Wednesday
Heres a sneak peek inside a Quebec cannabis store
The Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) opened one of its stores to media on Tuesday, a day ahead of legalization.

Reporters were shown around the outlet on St-Hubert Street, one of three in Montreal set to open to the public tomorrow.

Cannabis retail in Quebec: inside look at the SQDC

Jean-François Bergeron, a representative for the new government retailer, said the goal is to strike a balance: make the products enticing and affordable enough to compete with what's sold on the black market, while also ensuring they are consumed safely.

"The mission is not to promote consumption," said Bergeron, a vice-president at Quebec's liquor corporation (SAQ), which is overseeing the SQDC.

Bergeron anticipates that meeting the demand could be challenging in the first weeks following legalization. He said the pricing, which starts at just over $5 a gram, will be competitive.  

No items are visible from the street, in keeping with the law forbidding the promotion of marijuana — a frosted glass blocks the view from the lobby to the inside of each store. All items are wrapped and kept behind the counter. A few accessories such as lighters, rolling papers and grinders will also be sold.

The scene outside the St-Hubert store is very Montreal, as construction crews work on the closed-down street.

The immaculately stacked shelves, all behind a counter out of reach of consumers, are lined with offerings such as Great White Shark, Chocolope and Pink Kush.

Dried cannabis will be sold in 1 g, 3.5 g and 15 g formats, with a maximum of 30 g per visit, to match the legal limit a person will be allowed to have on them (150 grams is the limit per household). Prices will start at $5.25 a gram, to remain competitive with the black market.

Elsewhere, there are explanatory posters and smart screens outlining the differences between strains.

Customers concerned that transactions at SQDC outlets could lead to trouble at the U.S. border — which has said it wont allow Canadians who have admitted to smoking marijuana — can rest assured the SQDC keeps no record of its clientele, and cash is accepted in-store.

Bergeron said public education will be an essential part of the sale of legal marijuana, and front-line retail staff will play a key role in that endeavour.

The SQDC expects to sell approximately 50 tonnes of cannabis in its first year, which would replace about 30 per cent of the black market. The number of SQDC outlets will reach 20 within the next few months, 50 in the next year and 100 to 150 over the next three years.

The SQDC is set to open 12 outlets on Wednesday across the province, including three in Montreal. The three Montreal locations are:

We have a clear mission not to promote consumption, but to promote respectful consumption with education and fact-based information. There will be no lifestyle promotion or loyalty programs. Our aim is to distribute the product in a safe manner, across Quebec.

Three more stores, including another outlet in Montreal, are to open by the end of the month. There are plans to open between 150 and 160 stores in the next two to three years. A complete list of locations is available here.

And it was here that the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) offered media — including American and European journalists — a sneak peak inside one of its 12 provincial outlets (three of which are on the island of Montreal), Tuesday morning.

The opening hours are Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Clients will be able to order online, where they will be asked their age on the SQDC website, with ID required upon delivery. In-store customers who look younger than 25 will have to show ID upon entry, and adults with children will not be admitted.

By law, all outlets must be located at least 250 metres away from elementary and high schools (150 metres in Montreal).

Indica strains come with names such as Nordle, Hindu Kush, Alien Dawg  and Purple Chitral; Sativa types include Delahaze, Blue Dream, Candyland, Maui Wowie and Mango; while Hybrid variants could be Banana Split, Lemon Skunk or Kali Mist.

Customers will be required to show their identification at the door to prove they are 18 or over. The new Coalition Avenir Québec government is planning to raise the minimum age of legal consumption to 21.

In all, the SQDC plans to offer a total of about 180 products in the form of dried flower, ground cannabis, pre-rolled, oil, oral spray and pill or gel cap.

Inside the stores, the cannabis is in containers and isn't visible through the packaging. Customers also won't be allowed to see it or smell it before purchasing.

Do you have questions about how cannabis legislation is going to work in Quebec? The CBC's Benjamin Shingler has the answers. Join us live on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 12 p.m. on the CBC Montreal Facebook page for our Q&A on cannabis.

The stores are divided into three zones – the welcome area, the consultation zone and the storage area. They were specifically designed to “promote the safety of clients and advisers, as well as to disseminate information about education and counselling.”

Benjamin Shingler covers politics, immigration and social issues for CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

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The SQDC, the province’s cannabis stores operator, offered a sneak peek to reporters, ahead of the official opening Wednesday — when recreational cannabis becomes legal across the country.

Quebecs first legal locations to sell cannabis will open Wednesday, and officials gave reporters an inside look at what looks more like a health store than a head shop.

Unlike liquor stores — run by the SQDC’s sister corporation the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) — products in cannabis stores will not be on full display.

Three stores will open in Montreal, with nine more in the rest of the province, as well as an online store SQDC.ca (only functional Oct. 17) where people can order pot and have it shipped by mail.

The heart of the store, as described by the SQDC, is the consultation zone. This space is dedicated to serving clients and offering advice and dispensing information.

"We will guide them through the product attributes but we will not promote any products. So we will not say if you want that feeling, if you want that effect, use that product instead of this one. This is really clear, we will not promote any product as such," said Jean-Francois Bergeron of the SQDC.

More important than the name is to know what you’re buying. Three different strains of cannabis will be for sale including indica, sativa and hybrid.

"However we will explain the segregation of the products, we will explain the effects, we will explain as well the negative effects. Again, its really from a safety and security perspective that we do what we do. This is clear in our mission."

Products in this area are available over-the-counter, much like a pharmacy, with trained advisers helping customers make informed and responsible choices.

People will only be allowed to buy 30 grams per visit, at a cost of about $5.25 to $9/gram, with the average price at $7/gram.

In a news release, the SQDC said stores reflect the organization’s mission of educating the public without encouraging cannabis consumption.

Each household will be allowed to have up to 150 grams at home that should be stored in a location that is inaccessible to children.

In Montreal, cannabis smoke is banned in most places tobacco smoking is banned, but different municipalities might have different bylaws.

Quebec will have the lowest price point across the country, which is designed to help the stores compete with and ultimately shut down the black market.

"One thing we are expecting is to get about 30 per cent of the black market at the end of the first year which represents 50 metric tonnes of cannabis the first year," said Bergeron.

Each strain has different effects, levels of THC and different aromas including lemon, skunk, spicy and diesel, to name a few.

Buyers can choose between dried buds, ground cannabis, pre-rolled joints, or cannabis oil, pills, or oral spray, and buyers will be able to choose from three different types of cannabis: Indica, known for its relaxing properties; Sativa, known of inducing a cerebral, uplifting feeling and Hybrid, which is a blend of both. Products will also vary in intensity by having different quantities of THC and CBD, the active ingredients in cannabis, in them. 

The SQDC said that on opening day stores will have 130 of 150 eventual products, including accessories.

The SQDC is planning to open about 100 more locations through 2020, each one being at least 150 metres away from a school or daycare, and none will be in enclosed malls.

Stores will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

13 strains of indica cannabis are stored on shelves in an SQDC store in St. Hubert Plaza, ready for opening day (CTV Montreal/Cindy Sherwin)

Information about the various strains of cannabis on offer at the SQDC will be available in stores (CTV Montreal/Cindy Sherwin)