A month and a half after Canada legalized recreational cannabis use, Vancouver is seeing its first few legal pot shops open doors.
Delays in processing licence applications at the provincial and municipal levels caused the delays.
The first legal cannabis store to open in the city was City Cannabis Co.'s location near East 57th and Fraser Street — officially unit 7291 at 7289 Fraser St. — late in the evening on Jan. 4. Owner Krystian Wetulani told Business in Vancouver earlier in the day that he had planned to open the store on Jan. 5 but supplies came early and he decided to open the doors right away.
Had Wetulani waited until Jan. 5 to open for the first time, he would have shared the honour of being Vancouver's first legal cannabis store with Evergreen Cannabis Society, which opened its doors for the first time at 11 a.m. on Jan. 5.
Evergreen's owner, Mike Babins, received the first provincial business licence to sell legal cannabis in December, but he had to delay opening because of what he said were bureaucratic delays with the City of Vancouver.
Wetulani told BIV on Jan. 4 that he plans to open his second legal cannabis store, at 610 Robson St. on Jan. 9. That location received its provincial licence last week. The store has operated contrary to provincial law but with a City of Vancouver business licence since Oct. 17, but it closed in late December in order to pass a provincial inspection, Wetulani said.
Three other cannabis stores are licensed in B.C.: two in Kimberley and one in Pouce Coupe.
One concern for entrepreneurs who want to open retail cannabis stores is that they will not be able to get sufficient supplies. Cannabis shortages across Canada have plagued operations in Quebec and Alberta, and prompted the Ontario government to limit the number of private stores that it will allow to open on April 1.
One “big risk,” Wetulani said, is that his stores will have empty shelves.
“We have a lot of staff who are relying on us,” he said. “If we can’t get enough supply it will be tough going. People could be laid off for a few days here and there. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully that won’t happen.”
His goal is to have eight City Cannabis Co. stores open by the end of the year.
The City of North Vancouver has shortlisted City Cannabis Co. as one of five applicants that are able to go through the process to get licences in that city.
North Vancouver planner Wendy Tse told BIV that North Vancouver staff on Jan. 14 will seek support from the city’s newly elected council to go ahead with the previous council’s decision to licence a maximum of six cannabis stores.
“We are looking at a couple other spots and are close to throwing in a couple more applications with the province,” Wetulani said.
“We’ve been really focused on the Vancouver licences and to be two of the first stores in Vancouver is a big honour. This is the Mecca of cannabis and the city has very cultured consumers.”
One deterrent to operate a store in Vancouver is the city’s annual $33,097 business licence fee. Despite that fee, however, Wetulani said that he expects his two Vancouver stores to both be profitable by the end of the year.