People waiting to buy pot at bricks-and-mortar shops in Castlegar are going to have to be patient.
The first local cannabis retail outlet won’t be open for at least another month — and most likely longer than that.
“We’ve received two referrals from the province,” says Castlegar’s director of development services, Phil Markin. “We will start proceedings once the province tells us they have finished the proper review, doing the criminal and financial records check, that kind of stuff.”
The federal government legalized the recreational use of cannabis on Oct. 17, but only one retail outlet is open in the province, in Kamloops. People can also access cannabis online and have it delivered by mail.
But it may be a while before residents step inside an actual retail store in Castlegar.
Going for the green (light)
Anyone wanting to open a retail cannabis store has numerous hoops to jump through between the provincial and municipal governments.
Anyone applying for a licence has to first go to the province, with a $7,500 cheque in hand as an application fee. They also have to submit a $1,500 licensing fee for the first year.
If the province’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch gives an initial approval, then it goes to the city to start its own review. It’s then sent back up to the province, then back down to the city again for the final issuance of a municipal business licence.
After passing the initial criminal and financial checks from the provincial government, the proponent has to provide the city with a business plan.
“Once we get that OK from the province, these people can apply to the city under the city’s business bylaw, pay their $1,500 municipal application fee and proceed from there — provided we have a plan,” says Markin. That $1,500 is to cover the cost of the city’s approval process.
The business plan the proponent has to provide outlines how the business will operate, how it plans to minimize impacts to the neighbourhood, how the proposed location complies with zoning, ensuring the proper distance from sensitive areas like schools and day cares.
The would-be retailer has to outline their odour-control and security measures, how they meet fire codes, alarm systems and HVAC systems. They have to also provide the city with a drawing showing that the exterior and façade are consistent with development permit guidelines.
The proposed location also has to be advertised in the newspaper for two weeks, subject to public review and comment. The city will then receive a report from staff, consider their recommendations and decide on the issue. That would likely take two meetings of council to process.
If all that goes smoothly — the public fastest public consultation would be about a month, says Markin— the municipal government then sends the provincial government notice that they have no issues with the application.
“What is mandatory from the province is we have to comment on the location of store, the view of local government on the general impact on the community if the application is approved, and what the views of the residents are,” says Markin.
“We have to describe how those views were gathered, and include the local government recommendation on whether the application should be approved or rejected, give reasons on which our recommendation is based, and provide copies of any supporting documents that are referenced.”
If the province is satisfied with the paperwork, it issues a licence allowing the retailer to sell cannabis. Then the applicant goes back to the city for the actual business licence to operate.
in the cards?
Jeff Thompson, who ran Green Cannabis Consulting in Trail, is one of two applicants currently hoping to open a store in Castlegar. His location would be in the south end of town, near the Canadian Tire.
He’s already gone through the public hearing process in Trail, where his application was approved, and now he is moving back to the province for its next stage of approvals. But he’s still a step or two back in Castlegar.
“It’s a lot of work, filling out provincial forms, going through the process,” he says. “It can be tough for someone to open a shop. You need to have your location first with a lease signed, then going through the approval process. It can be months paying a lease on a place you can’t do anything with,” he says.
“When you pay your provincial licensing fee, it’s expensive, and there’s no guarantee of a refund if you are denied. So it’s an investment in money and time based on hope.”
While the process has been slower than he expected — he had hopes of opening on Oct. 17— he still supports the process.
“I think it’s a good system. It seemed to take a long time to make it happen, with one shop open in B.C. compared to Alberta. But it’s a good system.”
Thompson isn’t sure when he’ll be letting the first customer through the door in either community.
“I got quick response when I first applied, I clarified some information for them,” he says. “But I haven’t heard anything for weeks.”