B.C. defends approach to cannabis as only one government shop is ready to open

Laura Kane - The Canadian Press

0
513

British Columbia’s public safety minister says the province will meet demand for recreational marijuana with only one government-run shop and an online store when the drug is legalized next month.

Mike Farnworth also defended the province’s approach to legalization Monday after it announced that only one brick-and-mortar BC Cannabis Store in Kamloops will be open when recreational pot becomes legal Oct. 17.

marijuana pot joint
Marijuana/Shutterstock

“This is the largest public policy shift in this country in decades and it’s not something that just happens overnight,” said Farnworth in an interview.

“The fact that we went out and said we’re going to consult with local government and make sure that communities are involved right from the get-go was the right approach to take.

“To say that because you only have one store, this is a failure, quite frankly I just don’t accept that one bit.”

Farnworth said the Kamloops store is just the start and he expects a number of public and private shops will open in the weeks and months after legalization.

It’s still a possibility that some private stores will be ready to open on the day pot becomes legal, he said, adding that the province has received about 115 paid applications and notified local governments where those applicants are based. Once a municipal government decides to support an application, the province does a background check and issues a licence, he said.

Some communities have done a lot of work to prepare for legalization, but others have not, and many are waiting until after B.C.’s municipal elections on Oct. 20 to start the approval process, Farnworth said.

The site in Kamloops did not require a rezoning application and the province paid the city $5,000 for a business licence, plus an application fee of $1,600.

Jag Sandhu, a spokesman for the City of Vancouver, said it has not yet received any applications for approval from the province and is unable to confirm the number of stores that will be legally operating in the city on Oct. 17.

The city established a licensing system for medical marijuana stores in 2015 and recently updated its bylaw to reflect the legalization of recreational cannabis. Some 19 locations currently hold municipal business licences and will need a provincial licence before they can legally sell cannabis.

Vancouver has set its licence fee at $30,000. Viviana Zanocco, a spokeswoman for the Liquor Distribution Branch, which will operate the government’s cannabis stores, said decisions to pay the fees would be made on a case-by-case basis.

Farnworth said he expects to see government stores in Vancouver and many other communities.

He said the province will have plenty of supply and a significant variety of pot. It has signed agreements with more than 30 licensed producers of medical cannabis, including Tilray Inc., Aurora Cannabis Inc. and Canopy Growth Corp.

Ian Dawkins, president of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada, said he expects about a half-dozen private retailers will be able to open their doors in the first month and a half of legalization. But he said that’s still “absolutely not” adequate.

“Somebody who is in Vernon or Surrey wants to go buy some cannabis. They can’t,” he said. “OK, so I’m going to buy it on a website? I’ve never smelled this cannabis before. I don’t like the idea of it coming in the mail, maybe. I’m not able to have a conversation with the person selling it to me about the effects.”

He criticized the province for moving too slowly on legalization and said it has fundamentally failed to ensure that people currently operating in the black or grey markets will be able to participate come Oct. 17.

“We’re four weeks away. It’s too late. I’ve been squawking about this for a year and a half, and the ship sailed,” he said.

Jessika Villano, owner of Buddha Barn Craft Cannabis in Vancouver, said she completed her provincial application about three weeks ago. She already holds a business licence from the city to operate a medical marijuana dispensary.

“We’ve done everything right,” she said. “There’s no reason why our doors should not be open on Oct. 17.”

In contrast to Dawkins, she said the province has moved “incredibly fast” on legalization.

“They’ve had to do so much,” she said. “They’re doing the best they can. This is the first time cannabis has been legalized. They might not get it right the first time, but they’ll be tweaking it for years to come.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.