Naming Port Hawkesbury as one of 14 sites for a new Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) outlet selling cannabis and cannabis products was a positive development heading into the recent long weekend.

On February 14, Finance and Treasury Board Minister Karen Casey made the announcement, noting that the government is being “socially responsible” by moving “slowly and safely” on legal cannabis in Nova Scotia.

However, Casey acknowledged that things still haven’t gone to plan, as on-line sales did not fill gaps in areas under-serviced by the NSLC, and opening more stores is the most effective way to address these shortcomings.

NSLC’s director of communications, Jennifer Gray said Port Hawkesbury was chosen because there is only one outlet between Sydney and Antigonish, and only one outlet serving all of Cape Breton. She also confirmed that on-line sales are below expectations and the new stores will help close accessibility gaps.

At approximately 400 square feet, Gray said Port Hawkesbury is mid-sized compared to others in the province. Although timelines can change, the NSLC expects to be open in the town in November.

The province expects a request for proposals will be issued in April.

New cannabis stores will also be located in Annapolis Royal, Baddeck, Barrington Passage, Berwick, Elmsdale, Glace Bay, Liverpool, Mahone Bay, Bedford, Sydney Mines, Dartmouth, Tantallon, and Tatamagouche.

The addition of 14 new outlets will result in a total of 26 NSLC cannabis stores across Nova Scotia.

The selected stores were based on their geographic location, space to accommodate a cannabis store and the ability to renovate the stores cost effectively.

Greg Hughes, president and CEO, NSLC said the news is “an important step in fulfilling our mandate” to make cannabis accessible to adults who wish to purchase it.

Hughes also pointed to the NSLC’s mandate to make an impact on the illicit market, but like generating interest on-line, so far, that has not happened.

Recent NSLC research showed that one of the reasons customers are buying from the illicit market is because there is no cannabis store in their area. Gray explained that Narrative Research, using a combination of phone and on-line interviews, identified that a significant number of Nova Scotians are still buying cannabis illegally.

The reasons for that expose the problems still lingering over the roll-out of legal cannabis in Nova Scotia.

The fact the province initially introduced cannabis to such a small number of stores, and exposed large gas in service delivery, did not stop the movement of consumers to the black market.

Then when the stores were finally open, the high cost, poor variety, limited supply, and questionable quality of products fed the final and most significant rush to the illicit stream.

Modest NSLC profits aside, it’s noteworthy that the provincial government is acknowledging that cannabis legalization has not worked exactly as planned.

Relying heavily on sales on-line and on a small network of outlets was not a good plan, but by now expanding that network, and correcting past mistakes, NSLC might finally be taking slow, small steps toward progress.

For more on the legalization of cannabis in Nova Scotia, check out The Reporter’s award-winning editorial at: https://porthawkesburyreporter.com/province-bare-minimum-cannabis-legalization/.