Canada is roughly three weeks away from the legalization of recreational marijuana.
In Vernon B.C., however, legalization will ironically mean it is more difficult to buy cannabis in the city, at least in the short term.
At least three Vernon marijuana shops plan to shut their doors, some temporarily, until provincial permitting is worked out.
Some Vernon cannabis businesses said they are applying for provincial licences but approval will take time, and no provincial licences for Vernon stores are expected to be in place on October 17, legalization day.
In fact, the province said it can’t even issue the licences until federal legalization comes into force and couldn’t “speculate on when the first cannabis retail store licenses will be issued.”
“The application review process includes rigorous security screening and robust licensing requirements necessary to ensure that provincial goals concerning public health and safety are met; such due diligence requires time in assessing applications thoroughly,” the Ministry of the Attorney General said in a statement.
The city had been hoping its own regulation of the shops would make for a smooth transition, but that isn’t how it is working out.
“Council endorsed the temporary use permit because it wanted the stores to stay open for as long as possible. We thought by doing that it would allow them to transition into the new regulations,” said Kim Flick, the city’s director of community infrastructure and development.
“Clearly it was our hope and expectation that this would allow them to remain open. It is most unfortunate that that’s not how it’s working out.”
The lack of provincial licences will put existing Vernon marijuana shops in a confusing position after legalization.
“They can be open but they are not going to have any product to sell because, as of October 17, you can only sell product that you’ve gotten through the provincial distribution network, and you can’t buy product from the province if you don’t have a licence from the province,” Flick explained.
At least one of the shops is reluctant to apply for the provincial licence because of the expense. The provincial application fee is $7,500.
The owner of Herb’s Healing Center plans to lay off his six staff and close after October 16, and he isn’t happy with how legalization is being rolled out.
“This is just forcing everybody back underground,” Russ Stevenson said.
He hasn’t decided whether to apply for a provincial license.
“It doesn’t really look like it is going to be very profitable,” Stevenson said. “At this point, I’ve done the calculations and our very best day ever would make us $360 in a day.”
He wants to get official civic support before he spends the $7,500 on applying to the province, but the city says businesses need to go to the province first.
“That to us demonstrates they are serious about the application,” Flick said. “This is not a speculative application process.”
The city said it has only been notified about two applications to the province for marijuana storefronts in Vernon, and neither are from existing Vernon businesses.
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When contacted, many of Vernon’s existing marijuana stores said they were applying for provincial licences.
The province refused to disclose the number of applications they have had from Vernon to “safeguard the integrity of an applicant’s private business matters.”
It would only say that as of Tuesday, 20 licence applications from the Thompson-Okanagan region had been submitted.
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