British Columbia

B.C.'s patchy marijuana sales regime means blue, not green Christmas for many

Two months after recreational marijuana became legal in Canada, most business people hoping to set up shop are still waiting for the OK from the province and local governments.

'We are having people coming in in tears trying to find their medicine,' pot shop owner says

A woman walks past a pot shop in Nelson. Some entrepreneurs say the process for opening a pot shop in B.C. is too cumbersome. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Many British Columbians hoping for a "green" Christmas are going to be disappointed.

Two months after recreational marijuana became legal in Canada, most business people hoping to set up shop are still waiting for the OK from the province and local governments.

"We are having people come in in tears trying to find their medicine and just outright disgruntled about the system," said Russ Stevenson, owner of Herb's Healing Centre in Vernon.

Stevenson is in court arguing his customers deserve reasonable access to "medical" marijuana, which, since marijuana became legal, is no longer a designation.

At the same time, Stevenson has applied to the province for a recreational licence.

The backlog is leading to a patchwork of technically illegal marijuana sales in this province, with some communities taking a hard line. (Bob Keating/CBC)

"I applied three months ago for a recreational licence," said Stevenson. "This is really frustrating and really expensive. I've got six employees sitting on the back lines right now on E.I."

Only four provincial licences have been given out: two in Kimberley, Pouce Coupe in the north and one for a government run store in Kamloops.

Patchwork sales

The backlog is leading to a patchwork of technically illegal marijuana sales in the province, with some communities taking a hard line.

"It's city-by-city. It varies," said Don Skogstad who is a Penticton-based lawyer and consultant for companies hoping to get a licence.

"The federal government decided to give the provinces the right to distribute, and they've partly downloaded that to cities".

Cameron Shlakoff looks over the products in Nelson. (Bob Keating/CBC)

In order to be completely legal, shop owners have to get a recreational permit from the province, which in most cases is taking months.

They also need zoning approval and business licences from municipal governments.

Some municipalities, like Nelson and Kimberley, have been fast out of the gate, issuing the business licences or turning a blind eye to marijuana sales. Others have been accused of foot dragging.

"Why should people have to drive to another town or get their legal pot through the mail," asked Skogstad. "It's become a political argument, not a legal one."

'It is clogging up the system'

That means it's difficult to get access to a now legal product in a place like Kelowna, yet tiny Kimberley in the East Kootenay will have two fully legal businesses open by the new year.

In some communities, like Vancouver, shop owners are pushing back against the system. Selling marijuana while they await their permits, rather than closing down and having to start again.

Chris Campbell who runs the Potorium in Nelson has preliminary provincial approval to sell marijuana products but now she has to take that to the city, get final approval from city hall, then go back to the province for a provincial inspection.

"I think they are trying to be thorough. Unfortunately, it is clogging up the system," said Campbell.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.