Do covered windows compromise safety at cannabis stores?

Published on March 2, 2020 · Last updated July 28, 2020
covered windows fire & flower
Photo by Jesse Milns/Leafly

Who decreed cannabis retailers had to cover their store windows completely? At this point, it may not matter—what matters is following a rash of robberies in Alberta, some store owners and operators there are doing away with their window coverings for safety’s sake.

In a LinkedIn post, Fire & Flower’s VP government, media, and stakeholder relations Nathan Mison announced that following a robbery of one of the company’s stores “made worse by the full window coverings,” the company would undertake a store-by-store review and begin removing coverings from windows.

Those windows “where product cannot be seen from outside, where new merchandising can be utilized to make sure product cannot be seen by youth” will become transparent again. (The company issued a Security & Compliance memo laying out how this should be done.)

“Policies that don’t make sense need to be pushed back against,” Mison said.

Sections 29 and 30 of the Cannabis Act lay out federal regulations governing the display of cannabis and cannabis accessories in retail stores, and each prevents licensed retailers from displaying cannabis or cannabis accessories or packaging or labels associated with those products “in a manner that may result in the cannabis, package or label being seen by a young person.”

Nowhere does the Cannabis Act order retailers to completely block their windows—but that doesn’t mean provinces or municipalities can’t mandate such coverings themselves. That lack of clarity has left retailers uncertain about whom their windows are answerable to.

As early as March of last year retailers were protesting BC’s provincially mandated frosted windows, which they called both dangerous to store employees and an unpleasant addition to any street. (They went so far as to draft a petition to the House of Commons on the matter.)

Following a recent spate of Edmonton cannabis-store robberies, however, the issue has grown heated for Alberta retailers.

During one armed robbery at Edmonton’s CannaMart, an employee’s friend was waiting in a car outside, and though the violent robbery dragged out over an agonizing fifteen minutes, the witness could not see the crime taking place through the store’s fogged windows.

“lt’s definitely made a lot of the staff question whether or not they want to be in this industry,” CannaMart owner Christopher Wilson told CTV News. “My two staff members still have not returned back to work. […] There’s always the risk of someone coming in and shooting staff, and stuff like that.”

Wilson took down some of his window coverings at the time and called upon Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) to clarify its rules on window coverings and add more procedures for dealing with robberies to the provincial cannabis retail handbook.

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AGLC officials were quick to distance themselves from window coverings. In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, the AGLC’s Heather Holmen stressed it’s federal law that prohibits display. “In order to better display products for sale openly within the store and for customer experience purposes,” Holmen said, “most licensees have decided to cover their windows – but this is not an AGLC requirement.”

That’s not quite how some retailers remember it.

Jim Ramadan, owner of Calgary’s Bow Cannabis, said that prior to his story opening, AGLC representatives “were fanatical about having every inch of window covered.”

Ramadan described the display regulations as “farcical,” arguing the fogged windows encourage stigma against cannabis use.

Few such regulations exist to limit the display of alcohol products, and children accompanied by an adult can enter liquor stores and look at (but not touch) wine and liquor up close. According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, alcohol is “one of the top ten risk factors for disease among all Canadians and the top risk factor for Canadians aged 15 to 49 years” and the number of alcohol-related hospitalizations and deaths has increased to the point at which alcohol kills roughly seven Canadians per day.

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Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse Staniforth reports on cannabis, food safety, and Indigenous issues. He is the former editor of WeedWeek Canada.
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