British Columbia

What does it take to open a legal pot shop in Vancouver? Time and a lot of money

Vancouver's first licensed private cannabis store opens its doors this weekend — but it hasn’t been an easy process to operate legally.

‘If we expect people to follow the rules then we [need to be] making it more lucrative for them’

When it opens, Evergreen will be one of six private retailers in the province. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

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."

Mike Babins' licensed shop is only just opening. Rather than complain about the multi-month wait, he says he prefers to focus on the fact that 'after almost 100 hundred years of prohibition, it's only been two-and-a-half months.' (Mike Babins)

Lengthy process

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. 

Although Evergreen is the first legal, provincially-licenced outlet in Vancouver, it’s not the only one selling cannabis: dozens operate without a license. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

'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.

"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

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