Many hoops for le­gal pot shops

Van­cou­ver’s first two li­censed mar­i­juana re­tail­ers open for busi­ness

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - NATIONAL NEWS - AMY SMART

VAN­COU­VER — As Mike Babins opened one of Van­cou­ver’s first two le­gal pot shops on Satur­day, he showed lit­tle con­cern about the many il­le­gal re­tail­ers still com­pet­ing with him for cus­tomers.

The quicker that oth­ers can tran­si­tion to the le­gal mar­ket the way he did, the bet­ter, he said — the re­main­der will be dealt with in time.

“I’m sure there was this is­sue when al­co­hol pro­hi­bi­tion ended, but to­day do you go to the liquor store or some guy mak­ing bath­room hooch?” Babins said.

His store, Ever­green Cannabis So­ci­ety, opened its doors in the city’s Kit­si­lano neigh­bour­hood on Satur­day, more than two months af­ter recre­ational mar­i­juana was le­gal­ized in Canada — and af­ter jump­ing through nu­mer­ous reg­u­la­tory hoops.

Bri­tish Columbia has lagged be­hind some other prov­inces in is­su­ing non­med­i­cal cannabis re­tail li­cences, which must first be ap­proved by the prov­ince, then re­ferred to lo­cal gov­ern­ments or Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

The prov­ince says it has re­ferred 232 ap­pli­ca­tions, but only six li­cences have been is­sued, in­clud­ing Ever­green and two City Cannabis lo­ca­tions in Van­cou­ver.

City Cannabis opened its lo­ca­tion on Fraser Street on Satur­day and said it plans to open its Rob­son lo­ca­tion soon.

Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment web­sites list 65 li­censed pot re­tail­ers in Al­berta and 20 lo­ca­tions in New Brunswick, while On­tario will not have any stores un­til April.

The city said in a state­ment that it’s do­ing “ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble” to co-or­di­nate with the prov­ince and ex­ist­ing op­er­a­tors to en­sure they check the re­quired boxes of a mu­nic­i­pal de­vel­op­ment per­mit, pro­vin­cial li­cences and mu­nic­i­pal busi­ness li­cences.

Van­cou­ver has is­sued de­vel­op­ment per­mits to 56 re­tail out­lets, but those that have not ap­plied for a pro­vin­cial li­cence are sub­ject to pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal en­force­ment.

Since May 2016, the city has ap­plied for 53 in­junc­tions against il­le­gal dis­pen­saries, some of which agreed to a test case that was heard in Septem­ber 2018 be­fore the B.C. Supreme Court and were or­dered to shut down on Dec. 13.

Since the court case, the city said it has since iden­ti­fied about 20 re­tail shops that are op­er­at­ing with­out per­mits and has filed or is pre­par­ing to file in­junc­tion ap­pli­ca­tions against them.

On Satur­day, more than a dozen peo­ple lined up to be among Ever­green’s first le­gal cus­tomers.

The open­ing fol­lowed what Babins has de­scribed as an “ex­tremely, ex­tremely thor­ough” pro­vin­cial li­cens­ing process in­volv­ing back­ground checks go­ing back 20 years, as well as a dif­fi­cult few months for him and his wife and busi­ness part­ner, Maria Petrucci, as they waited for ap­proval.

Babins said the shop, which ini­tially opened as a med­i­cal dis­pen­sary in 2015 and op­er­ated with a mu­nic­i­pal li­cence un­der the old regime, stopped sell­ing mar­i­juana but kept staff on af­ter le­gal­iza­tion on Oct. 17 while wait­ing for the li­cences. Their only in­come was from non­cannabis prod­ucts like rolling pa­pers.

“My wife and I just watched the bank ac­count get lower and lower and lower ev­ery day. We ba­si­cally had to cash in what we had saved for our down pay­ment for a house,” he said.

The night be­fore open­ing, they faced one fi­nal hur­dle. The full staff worked for 13 hours pre­par­ing the shop and strug­gled to meet a pro­vin­cial law re­quir­ing sam­ples to be con­tained in “smell jars” at­tached to a dis­play case or counter — which makes the cannabis un­touch­able.

“We thought ev­ery­thing would be ready and smooth and easy to go but we re­al­ized no one knows how to use these lit­tle smell jars yet. I broke a lot of buds try­ing to get them to sit on the lit­tle spoke,” he said.

The plas­tic jars also added to a grow­ing list of ex­penses, be­cause Babins could only find a seller in California, which meant pay­ing in Amer­i­can dol­lars and adding ship­ping, bor­der and im­port fees.

“Yes­ter­day was a big learn­ing curve. I guess we’re go­ing to be on a big learn­ing curve for the next few weeks.”

In the end, how­ever, Babins said he be­lieves it will all be worth it.

“I’m think­ing about to­mor­row, not to­day — or yes­ter­day ac­tu­ally,” he said.

“I think the more stores that get through this process — and we have a full le­gal frame­work in place — will be a good thing,” Babins said, adding that he be­lieves the sys­tem will set­tle it­self soon enough.

“I un­der­stand it’s pretty hard to give up when you’ve had to fight for so long — but the fight is over. It’s hard to re­al­ize that we’ve won.”

Ja­clyn Pe­hota of Alth­ing Con­sult­ing, who served as Ever­green’s reg­u­la­tory con­sul­tant, said it was a “long haul” to reach what is es­sen­tially the be­gin­ning of some­thing new.

“I think they rep­re­sent a suc­cess story from the le­gal­iza­tion per­spec­tive, be­cause they come from the grey mar­ket and have suc­cess­fully tran­si­tioned into a le­gal mar­ket,” Pe­hota said.

“I think that’s the point of le­gal­iza­tion and that’s heart­en­ing.”

DAR­RYL DYCK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

A per­son holds a joint to cel­e­brate the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational cannabis, in Van­cou­ver, on Oct. 17, 2018.

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