In the first action of its kind ever taken in the province, Manitoba Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority inspectors suspended the licence of a cannabis store and assumed control of the product on site.
But the store in question, Meta Cannabis Supply Co. located at 420 Madison St., is not itself suspected of any non-compliance or illicit activity.
It is an unlicensed store on Long Plain First Nation’s Keeshkeemaquah reserve in Portage la Prairie that is the problem for the regulators. They claim that store is selling cannabis produced in an unlicensed facility and that multiple requests to Long Plain First Nation to stop went unanswered.
That store is owned by one of the partners of the Meta store, NAC Long Plain Limited Partnership
The Meta store on Madison Street — also located on a Long Plain urban reserve — is a partnership between Meta and NAC Long Plain LP.
The Keeshkeemaquah store, called Indigenous Bloom, is also owned by that same group and by the band.
By midday Wednesday, Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches said the Indigenous Bloom store remained open.
But meanwhile, on Madison Street, the suspended licence means they cannot sell cannabis until the suspension is lifted.
Amanda Creasy, director of public affairs, at the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority, confirmed that it was the first cannabis retailer licence suspension in the province.
"LGCA is taking care and control of the store inventory until we can work the situation out," she said. "But we don’t suspect that they were selling unregulated product."
Meeches said the band would not be making a statement until it met with its lawyers.
Omar Khan, senior vice-president for corporate and public affairs for High Tide Inc., the company that acquired Meta Growth Corp. in November, said it knew nothing of the allegations and that its store was operating in full compliance and expects that LGCA will acknowledge that in short order.
"We have no relationship with these outside business interests," he said. "The LGCA has confirmed that this licence is only being temporarily suspended as a result of unrelated activities by the majority partner and that this particular store is in full compliance."
He said the company takes compliance very seriously and takes care not to jeopardize its relationship with regulators.
"We hold all partners to the same standards as ourselves and, as such, will be taking necessary actions related to the partnership with Long Plain First Nation moving forward," he said.
The Keeshkeemaquah store operated for some time as part of the Meta brand under a partnership agreement between the Arrowhead Development Corp., Long Plain’s development company, and a subsidiary of Meta Growth Corp.
Khan said, "A decision was made by the partnership to close the store in April of 2020 and to dissolve the partnership. We do not have line of sight into what the Arrowhead Development Corp. may or may not have done with the location after our partnership ended."
Creasy could not comment on what action might be taken against the store in Keeshkeemaquah whose alleged non-compliant activities regulators have known about for a few weeks.
"This has been a collaborative actions between law enforcement, MBLL and ourselves since we were made aware of the other store," she said.
A spokeswoman for the RCMP said she was not aware of any action having been taken against the Keeshkeemaquah store.
John Arbuthnot, the CEO of Delta 9 Cannabis, which owns nine stores in Manitoba, said this is the first incident of non-compliance he’s ever heard of.
"Given the availability of product in the market right now, there is not a need to be sourcing alternative product outside of those legal avenues," he said. "I have heard very little if anything around inversion or diversion of product from the black market. I have not heard of a single instance of cannabis being sold to a minor or stores being sanctioned for either of those things."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.