Yellowknife vape shop owner vying to open N.W.T.'s first private pot shop
City's Chamber of Commerce touts economic benefits of independent cannabis sales
The owner of a Yellowknife vape store aims to open the first pot dispensary in the Northwest Territories, when — or if —the government approves private sales.
Austin Robertson, 29, is the owner of VapouRevolution in Yellowknife. He said the business has seen success in its first month, but he has greater aspirations.
By April he hopes to open another store, one that he says could act as the first private dispensary in the territory.
"Now that legalization has come through, it just seems like the natural step for our shops," he said. "At this point we want to do it classy … there is a demand for it."
Originally from Vancouver Island, Robertson and his three brothers have opened up VapouRevolution stores across Western Canada. When the Yellowknife shop first opened in December, it became the eighth location.
The Yellowknife store was the first location to carry cannabis paraphernalia, such as bongs, pipes and gas-masks.
Plans to expand in B.C. and N.W.T.
No stranger to the process of applying for a cannabis license, Robertson has already submitted two applications to become a retailer in B.C.: one in Lumby and another near Dawson Creek. Those stores don't have names as of yet.
Robertson's proposed cannabis stores would be separate from VapouRevolution. He has not yet submitted a formal application for a pot shop in Yellowknife.
Robertson wants to open up the shop this spring, but said it depends on how quickly the territorial government rolls out new regulations.
Robertson said the liquor and cannabis commission told him plans for private stores are "in the works." The commission did not respond to a request for comment on this before Monday morning.
Robertson said cannabis has had a positive effect on his family. The oil helped his grandmother, who used it while she had cancer.
"As soon as that happened, we kind of all looked at this industry and said 'hey, you know that's something that we want to be a part of.'"
Chamber of Commerce backs private retailers
Other vendors in the territory have expressed interest in opening cannabis stores, and Robertson says he welcomes the competition.
"It's good to have competition across the board," he said. "[It] keeps the pricing rate where it should be."
It's this form of healthy competition that Deneen Everett, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, said is good for the city.
"If you've got these eager people who want to pursue the opportunity, we believe you should let them," she said. "You've got the potential for new vacant space to be filled, and there's a potential for new employees and training opportunities."
Last April, the chamber called for a competitive process for determining cannabis retailers. It was opposed to the territorial government's decision to sell cannabis out of liquor stores.
Gov't committed to Cannabis Act
On Oct. 17, 2018, cannabis became legal in Canada.
The N.W.T.'s Cannabis Act states that within six months of legalization, the government will begin developing criteria for assessing whether a private pot shop can open up.
According to the legislation, decisions will be based on whether or not the minister considers a given store to be "in the public interest."
"The territorial government is committed to providing opportunities for interested individuals to open private retail stores," Todd Sasaki, spokesperson for the Department of Finance, said in an email.
He said the liquor and cannabis commission will determine whether there is "community support and sufficient demand."
The government has not yet opened up a formal application process, Sasaki said.