These are examples of the small containers in which legal, AGLC-approved cannabis will be sold in Alberta come October 17, 2018. Photos by GRAHAM HICKS/EDMONTON SUN

By GRAHAM HICKS

Somehow I had this vision of Alberta’s new legal pot stores (as of October 17, 2018) being like a Bulk Barn, where you would scoop your favourite cannabis buds out of a bin, fill your baggie, weigh, pay at the cashier then home you’d go to roll joints.

Nope, nope, nope.

While we are soon to embark on the Wild West of legalized marijuana, this Wild West comes with rules as decreed by Health Canada, the province, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) and municipalities.

I toured Alberta pot-retailer-in-waiting Fire & Flower’s concept store on Jasper Avenue West.

This is no Bulk Barn.  It’s more like an Apple or a Nike store.

Spotless, modern, art on the walls, display merchandising, no loose pot to be seen. Definitely no bins of pot buds.

(The words cannabis, pot, marijuana and the more casual “weed” are interchangeable. All describe the same plant. Buds are the female plant’s flower – the part smoked or eaten to get high.)

The clean, cool look of Fire & Flower’s concept store on Jasper Avenue. Loose cannabis is nowhere to be seen.

All pot grown by Health Canada licensed producers (for consumption in Alberta)  must be packed in small retail jars or tubes before leaving the greenhouse for the AGLC cannabis warehouse, and from there to 100-or-so expected retail outlets in Metro Edmonton.

The biggest sales unit will be three to five grams – enough cannabis buds to fill a small pepper mill. The smallest unit – besides pre-rolled joints purchased one at a time in mini-cigar tubes – will fill a shoe-polish tin.

The only visible pot in any new  pot store will be in a few container samples in locked display cases. All the rest will be securely stored. You’ll place your order. A clerk will go get it.

The Apple store analogy is not that far-fetched.  Buying cannabis at Fire & Flower is expected to be a “curated” affair, given most Edmontonians have never – or extremely rarely, or a very long time ago – actually smoked weed.

“Curated” means a trained salesperson helps you pick the kind of pot you want– based on its THC level (the “euphoric” ingredient), the CBD level (the non-euphoric medicinal ingredient), and other natural substances.  It’s like the Apple salesperson helping you pick a computer.

Fire & Flower had developed six pot categories, call them moods if you like: Engage (sociable, euphoric), Mellow (relaxed, de-stressed), Boost (energetic, euphoric), Sedate (tranquil, blissful, drowsy), Spark (awake, engaged, alert, slightly euphoric) and Arouse (euphoric, aphrodisiacal i.e. heightened orgasm).  Pot with no THC is a very different animal. CBD pot has no euphoric properties, but is a treasure-trove of herbal medicine uses.

These mood classifications seemed logical, given the general ignorance. Except a Canadian professor objected, arguing not enough research was available to support such claims. And Health Canada agreed. Where this leaves cannabis salespeople trying to understand and answer customer needs is anybody’s guess. Welcome to the Wild West with rules!

In Alberta, like booze, the wholesale cost of cannabis products will be set by the AGLC – based on producers’ input costs.

Retailers can then charge what the market will bear – including loss leaders. Black-market marijuana – pot sold outside the system – will still be a pricing factor. To discourage and ultimately end illegal cannabis sales, the AGLC is reportedly determined to  keep wholesale prices competitive with the black market.

Fire & Flower staff suggest the average retail cost of pot buds will be around $10 a gram. That pepper mill of pot would cost $30.

The kerfuffle about where pot can be smoked will soon be meaningless. Once cannabis-infused foods and beverages are allowed, which is the next step in legalization, why smoke when you can eat?

As for advertising rules … nobody’s quite yet sure.  And the only authorized online cannabis dealer for Alberta, at this point, will be the AGLC itself.

The about-to-function legal pot sector and its regulators are highly stressed, preparing for Legalization Day. Too bad they can’t chill with “Mellow” pot. Not until October 17.

How many pot stores in Greater Edmonton will open on Legalization Day, with permits and licenses and inventory in place? Nobody seems quite sure.

How will Canadian society adapt to a second, legal,  mood/perception-altering substance? How will being too-stoned – legally, behaviourally in groups, medically – be defined, especially when challenged in the courts?  What about the interaction of cannabis and alcohol?

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West. We’ll make up more rules as we go along.