What does it take to open a legal pot shop in Vancouver? Time and a lot of money
‘If we expect people to follow the rules then we [need to be] making it more lucrative for them’
Vancouver's first licensed private cannabis store opens its doors this weekend — but it hasn't been an easy process to operate legally.
The Evergreen Cannabis Society started as a medical marijuana dispensary in 2015 and, months after recreational cannabis became legal, is only just up and running. When it opens, it will be one of just six private retailers in the province.
"We've been waiting for this a very long time," said owner Mike Babins.
"There was so much we had to go through."
The province audited all of Babins and his wife's finances going back two decades, he said, and asked about every penny.
They then had to get a municipal business license from the city, going through three variance hearings.
When recreational cannabis was legalized last October, Evergreen's licensing hadn't yet been finalized. Babins was warned by the province not to sell any pot illegally or risk their licensing approval.
"We liquidated all the cannabis in the store but I didn't want my staff to not be able to pay the rent or have to find other jobs so we stayed open, just selling accessories," he told Laura Lynch, the guest host of CBC's The Early Edition.
"It's [not] very profitable to sell two packs of rolling papers a day … we basically saw our bank account go down to nothing in three months."
The shop, located in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood, was originally set to open at the end of December.
'Very frustrating' lack of enforcement
Although Evergreen is the first legal, provincially-licenced outlet in Vancouver, it's far from the only one selling cannabis: dozens still operate illegally around the city.
"It's very frustrating," Babins said.
"It's like being a brother and sister and the brother is following all the rules and sister gets away with everything [when] Mommy's not looking."
Last month, the City of Vancouver revealed that it had obtained a court order to shut down 28 cannabis stores operating without permits.
There are at least another 20 stores not mentioned in the court case that are also subject to the same order that are also still open for business.
Vancouver's first legal cannabis store opens tomorrow. Owner Mike Babins shares his thoughts on following the rules while an an estimated 48 illegal stores remain open. Councillor <a href="https://twitter.com/MelissaDeGenova?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MelissaDeGenova</a> says some owners are choosing to pay fines instead of the licencing fee. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/bcpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#bcpoli</a> <a href="https://t.co/hTuJFmcTRQ">pic.twitter.com/hTuJFmcTRQ</a>—@CBCEarlyEdition
"The issue since day one is enforcement," said NPA councillor Melissa De Genova.
"If we're setting rules going forward, we need to make sure that we are not only enforcing them but setting an example."
Last year, the fine for illegal operations was about $250.
"It was actually more lucrative to not get a City of Vancouver license for $30,000 and instead just to pay the fine," De Genova said.
"If we expect people to follow the rules then we [need to be] making it more lucrative for them to apply for the licenses and to follow the rules."
With files from The Early Edition