B.C. to get just a single cannabis store on day one of legalization

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More than 100 private store applications have been submitted to the province, which must then be vetted by local governments, who are also creating special licences for the stores.

NICK EAGLAND

Don’t count on more than one legal recreational cannabis store to open its doors in B.C. on federal legalization day next month.

The B.C. government has said the opening of new cannabis stores “won’t happen overnight” on Oct. 17, when the federal Cannabis Act comes into force. But a survey of local governments and cannabis consultants reveals it may actually take up to 18 months before potential operators have trudged through the rigorous process of municipal rezoning, community consultation and approval for their shops.

B.C.’s framework for legalization includes government and private stores stocked with wholesale cannabis from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch, as well as a website through which people can order products from government warehouses. With a month left until legalization, only the online platform and a single government store — in Kamloops — are confirmed to be up and running on day one.

Meantime, more than 100 private store applications have been submitted to the province, which must then be vetted by local governments, who are also creating special licences for the stores. None of the applications are expected to be processed and approved by Oct. 17, nor are any of those stores expected to be built, stocked and staffed.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Sara Mohsin, client executive at Rising Tide Consultants in Vancouver.

Mohsin said her cannabis team is handling more than 60 store applications from about two dozen people, corporations and publicly-traded companies, with some planning to open multiple stores across B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

They’ve been told to expect private stores in B.C. to start opening as soon as January 2018 in some municipalities but as late as spring 2020 in others due to the lengthy process of local government approval.

With B.C.’s municipal elections on Oct. 20 — and more than half of Metro Vancouver mayors not seeking re-election — there are many unknowns about cannabis retail in B.C., Mohsin said.

In B.C., local governments control land use and zoning for the cannabis stores, and can cap the number of licences they issue as well as their hours of operation. They can even ban the stores outright, though residents the age of majority in B.C. — 19 — will still be able to order through the government website.

Mohsin said she expects the B.C. government to have a stranglehold on sales in the early months through that website.

Meantime, private-retail hopefuls are desperate for the latest details about policy and regulation, which have been slow to come.

Up to 18 months to get a store to the approval stage

The federal Cannabis Act was passed last November and B.C. introduced corresponding legislation in April 2018. The province only began accepting applications to operate a marijuana dispensary in the first half of August.

Asked this week whether any applications had been sent to local governments for review, Ministry of Attorney General spokesman Liam Butler said in an emailed reply that the government was unable to comment on applications in process.

Butler said the review process involves rigorous security screening and robust licensing requirements and said the province can’t estimate how long local government or Indigenous government review and recommendation processes would take.

A survey of eight local governments, representing roughly half B.C.’s population, confirmed that none know whether they will have any stores ready to open locally on Oct. 17, and most were highly doubtful.

Terry Waterhouse, general manager of public safety for Surrey, said local governments won’t receive provincial applications for review until they have their own retail framework sorted out. He said Surrey city staff are still working with council and the province to determine how many stores to open, but said it’s unclear whether any will be ready to open before 2019.

“Like many jurisdictions, I think the first wave of availability for B.C. residents is going to be via online sales,” Waterhouse said.

Vancouver doesn’t know whether any stores will be open on Oct. 17.

“As the city has not yet received any applications for approval from the province, we are unable to confirm the number of cannabis retail stores that will be legally operating in Vancouver on October 17,” Kathryn Holm, the city’s chief licence inspector, stated.

Holm said the city has issued development permits to 52 private stores in the city, and business licences to 19 of them, but said they’ll still need to get provincial retail licences before they can operate. Dispensaries operating with a lapsing marijuana-related retail use or compassion club licence from the city will need to get a new city business licence for cannabis retail as well as a provincial licence, she said.

Burnaby city council will look at approving government stores before allowing any private stores, which could be integrated based on how the government stores serve the community, said Edward Kozak, deputy director of planning and building.

But first, a zoning-bylaw amendment to allow government pot stores in the city has to get further readings by council, and then each store must submit a separate rezoning application before facing a public hearing and a decision by council based on staff input.

Rezoning applications generally take six to 18 months to process, depending on their complexity, Kozak said.

“Burnaby residents are either going to have to go to a neighbouring municipality that has it established … or rely on online sales,” Kozak said. “I think October 17, although it may be legal, it may be hard to get.”

Ryan Smith, community planning manager for Kelowna, said next week council will either review, approve or send back for changes its cannabis retail strategy, and could adopt the strategy in time for legalization. But then potential retailers will have to submit rezoning applications for review.

Smith said the municipal election has delayed the whole process and the city doesn’t expect to review rezoning applications until next spring.

“I would imagine that by June, July or August, we’ll have our first stores open,” he said.

Coquitlam is taking a “wait and see” approach and wants to see full details from the province and extensive public consultation before making any decisions about what to open and where, said senior planner Chris McBeath.

Stores will remain prohibited in Abbotsford after legalization while its framework is determined.

“If council votes to make changes that would permit retail operations to exist in Abbotsford, the timeline will be dependent on the method that is chosen,” spokeswoman Alex Mitchell said.

The District of Saanich council has asked its planning staff for a report on cannabis retail options, which it expects to review in early 2019, said spokeswoman Megan Catalano.

Richmond counts itself among the municipalities where residents will have to seek cannabis elsewhere, as staff and council currently have no plans to allow stores in the city, spokesman Ted Townsend said.

Grey-market dispensaries seek clarity

With only one legal store set to open Oct. 17, the grey-market dispensaries currently selling cannabis in some cities are wondering what role they will play in post-legalization B.C.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says those dispensaries are allowed to apply for a provincial licence, but a big question among the dispensaries remains what will happen to them as they wait for approval.

Don Briere, owner of Weeds Glass and Gifts, said he is applying for licences for dispensaries he currently runs in multiple provinces.

 

But in B.C., his legal team is waiting for the decision of a test case before the B.C. Supreme Court involving about 40 medical cannabis dispensaries fighting to remain open. The dispensaries argue that they provide reasonable access to medical pot that the government does not, but at the same time face an onerous application process under the City of Vancouver’s current licensing system. The case is expected to conclude some time in the next two weeks.

Briere said it’s too early to say whether his doors will be open on Oct. 17, but said he hopes regulators consider his industry experience and community service to patients with medical needs.

“All the people in this industry, we have thousands of years of (combined) knowledge and experience, and it would be difficult for the government to shut us out of this,” Briere said.

Several other dispensary owners declined to be interviewed for this story, citing a concern that speaking publicly about their applications might put their success in jeopardy.

According to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General no unlicensed retailers will be shut down overnight, however a new “Community Safety Unit” has been created to weed out unlicensed stores operating after Oct. 17.

“We anticipate many illegal dispensaries will voluntarily come into compliance with the law by obtaining a retail licence, or shutting down,” ministry spokesman Colin Hynes said in an email.

The ministry said that as more legal retail stores open, enforcement against illegal ones will increase. The safety unit is authorized to enter illegal stores without a warrant and seize product and records. It can call police for help and impose fines based on the value of the cannabis seized or sold. The sellers could wind up convicted in court and face further fines and jail.

Licence inspector Holm said Vancouver can’t estimate how many of the grey-market dispensaries currently operating will be able to get provincial retail licences and municipal development permits and business licences so that they can be open on Oct. 17.

But none of them “will just ‘roll into’ the new system,” she said.

The Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada is watching B.C. and Vancouver’s approach to dispensaries closely.

“It’s all a last-minute disaster,” said its president, Ian Dawkins. “Even Ontario has started to correct their decisions. In B.C., we haven’t had announcements for basic stuff.”

Ontario announced in April that it had secured four locations for government cannabis stores. In March, Alberta began accepting applications for retail stores, and the province plans to license 250 private stores in the first year.

Dawkins said more than a dozen of the association’s clients currently operating dispensaries in Vancouver hope to transition into the legal recreational system.

A big question among them is whether the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch will have sufficient wholesale cannabis to stock their shelves, whether they continue to buy illegally from grey-market suppliers or just close their doors until the wholesale supply becomes available to them after they are approved.

“I expect that most of the people operating cannabis dispensaries are going to continue selling their grey-market cannabis and law enforcement is probably going to turn a blind eye,” Dawkins said.

Dawkins’s colleague Jaclynn Pehota, a director of the association, said there’s an awful lot of guesswork involved with just one month left until legalization. In Vancouver, they expect licensing to be similar to liquor primary establishments, but they don’t know for certain.

“These are people’s businesses,” she said. “They’ve invested in them, they’re looking to transition them, and not having a clear path to that, the two levels of government working hand in glove, is frustrating.”

 

What can I buy?

If you’re 19 or older, you can buy and possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis and smoke it anywhere tobacco can be used, except beaches, parks and playgrounds. In the first year of legalization, British Columbians will have access to dried cannabis (including pre-rolled joints), cannabis oils, capsules and seeds that meet federal requirements. Edibles and concentrates won’t come in until about a year after legalization. To date, 32 licensed producers across Canada have entered into a memorandum of understanding to provide cannabis products to the B.C. Liquor Distribution Board. The federal government has set a target of about $10 per gram for dried cannabis, taxes included, though a Statistics Canada survey earlier this year revealed Canadians claim they have been paying closer to $7 on average.

How does the online system work?

B.C.’s online cannabis store, using the Shopify e-commerce platform, launches just after midnight on Oct. 17 for consumers who are 19 or older. The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch says online orders will be subject to a maximum 48-hour processing period and will be shipped by a third-party courier, whose driver will check the customer’s government ID. Delivery times will depend on the customer’s shipping address. A second government website will open shortly after Oct. 17 to serve licensed private retailers ordering wholesale cannabis.

Where are people applying to open private stores?

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General on Thursday said it had received 99 applications for provincial cannabis retail licences in the following regions of B.C.:
Cariboo and Northern B.C.: 14
Vancouver Island and Coast: 24
Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast: 22
Kootenays: 8
Thompson-Okanagan: 16
Incomplete applications: 15

(The ministry said the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch cannot identify any cannabis retail licence applicants.)

What if I want to grow my own?

Sure. The federal government is letting each Canadian household — not person — to grow up to four plants for personal use from licensed seed or seedlings, though the B.C. government has some rules about that. Here, the plants must not be visible from public spaces off the property, and home growing will be banned in homes also used as day-cares.

Source:https://vancouversun.com

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