Ottawa’s National Access Cannabis hiring up to 700 staff across Canada ahead of legalization

cannabis

The buzz around Canada’s legal marijuana market has turned Ottawa’s National Access Cannabis (TSX-V:META) into a “bees’ nest of activity” – and the prospect of private pot retail in Ontario is only sweetening the local firm’s honeypot.

Based in the National Capital Region, NAC’s portfolio of companies consists of medical, educational and recreational cannabis brands. It’s that last branch – recreational retail – that’s driving the firm’s hiring surge and real estate plays in western Canada, where private companies will be permitted to sell cannabis.

NAC chief executive Mark Goliger says the firm expects to have 30 dispensary locations operating in time for the Oct. 17 legalization date under its Meta Cannabis Supply Co. brand. Five of those locations will be in Manitoba, where the firm announced earlier this month it had secured retail licenses. Goliger says many more will be in Alberta, where the firm is just waiting on building permits to start construction.

Each of these locations will need regional directors of operations, store managers and staff, Goliger says, which means a lot of hiring in the coming months.

“It could be up to 700 people we have to hire in the next three-to-five months,” he says.

At the firm’s Ottawa headquarters, Goliger says a dozen “key employees” will be added soon in areas such as marketing, real estate development and HR. Elsewhere in Ontario, NAC is also rapidly scaling up operations at its newly-opened Toronto offices.

Goliger says the rush to be ready for Canada’s legal cannabis demand has turned NAC into a “bees’ nest of activity,” laughing at how busy its operations have become.

The impending market was made even more hectic with the news last week that Ontario Premier Doug Ford plans to open up cannabis retail to the private market, reversing a decision from the previous Liberal government. While the exact framework of licensing and dispensaries has yet to be unveiled, Goliger says NAC will aim to have “as large of a footprint in Ontario as (it) possibly can.

“I think we’re all holding our breath to see how the private model is going to be rolled out in Ontario,” he says. NAC’s share price on the TSX Venture Exchange jumped more than 13 per cent the morning after media reports first emerged that Ford planned to allow private sales.

One of the biggest retail plays NAC has made was striking a deal with Second Cup to convert some of the coffee chains’ locations across Canada into cannabis lounges where the drug can be consumed.

Goliger says he doesn’t expect the Ontario government to open the door to lounges of that sort by Oct. 17. With the new government short on time before weed is federally legal, he suggests the focus will likely be on figuring out a dispensary licensing model before attention turns to alternative locales where Ontarians could consume cannabis products.