Merry Guanas poised to be Lacombe’s first cannabis dispensary

Cannabis retail owner expects a six-month wait before industry comes to city

Merry Guanas has gone through all the hoops and is now in line to become Lacombe’s first cannabis retailer.

“It has been a long process to get to this point,” Matt Panelli, president and owner, said. “We have been working on this for a year and half heavily and over two and half years overall.”

Despite being first in line for the City of Lacombe, Panelli said it is unlikely they will be open before six months from now due both to provincial licensing and a shortage of cannabis supply in the province.

“There are two components you have to have to sell cannabis: You have to pass the due diligence process, which is a background check that includes criminal and financial and you also have to pass an inspection when your facility is done and ready to go,” Panelli said.

“Once you have completed those two processes you are added into the queue, which is the waiting list to get licenses.

“As of today, there are 75 stores province-wide — only two of which are in central Alberta: Two in Red Deer and one in Stettler.”

Although Panelli, along with his Vice President and Co-Owner Steven Bigg, are excited to be closer to opening the doors — the fact that they are a private retailer and not a large chain makes it difficult to go through the long waiting process.

“We have put everything we have into this and have stretched ourselves to the limit but we know the potential at the end of the day justifies the risk,” he said.

Panelli’s confidence stems from the fact they will be the first dispensary in Lacombe and also that the private nature of their business model allows them to give a more recreational feel, unlike the very clinical models they have seen at the over two dozen retail dispensaries they have scouted.

“Being a recreational dealer, we are heavily regulated on what we can and cannot say as far as the medical properties of it so we have decided to not even walk the line of what is medical and what is not,” he said. “We will be able to help medical patients with a specific ask, but we will not be explaining to customers medically what they should be looking for. That is a conversation they should be having with their doctor.”

Panelli is also banking on the growth of the cannabis sector in Canada, which is currently at $5.7 billion per year. Legal alcohol currently sits at $22.1 billion, but Panelli believes that as the black market dies down and edibles are introduced — cannabis will grow significantly.

“We think that in 10 years we will see those numbers will be close to even for a lot of reasons,” he said.

Given this growth, Panelli and Biggs have focused on forging relationships with other potential retailers in town rather than working in a cutthroat environment.

“We believe the market is big enough to have five stores and all of them be successful,” he said.

Panelli said above all, it is important for Merry Guanas to adhere strictly to AGLC guidelines.

“That is a huge focus for us. Anyone that comes into this building has to be 18 even if they aren’t even purchasing,” he said.

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