The B.C government says it has received around 100 permits to operate private cannabis stores in the province. This comes as the province expects to have just one government-operated store, located in Kamloops, open by the time recreational pot is legal on Oct. 17.
“It is going to be a gradual process in the sense there will be a few stores ready. Local governments are the ones making the decisions on the kind of retail outlets they want, whether they want a government store or a private store or a mix of both or in some cases, they have indicated they don’t want any retail,” said Farnworth. “It will take two or three years for the system to mature.”
The applicants for the private stores will have to go through background checks and it is unclear how many of the current applicants will actually get stores. Currently, there are about 1,000 liquor stores in British Columbia, a combination of private and government-run stores.
The province is not anticipating the same sort of number of cannabis stores as liquor stores. Farnworth says a significant portion of the population uses alcohol while research shows between 20 to 25 per cent of British Columbians have tried or use marijuana regularly.
“I don’t expect you will see many cannabis retailers as there are liquor outlets. It will be determined by local governments and the demand from British Columbians,” said Farnworth. “On day one, there will be a few stores open, a few months later, there will be more stores open and three months after that, there will be more stores open.”
What makes legalization unique in British Columbia is the high number of dispensaries in Victoria and Vancouver. Those dispensaries can apply for permits, but they have to go through the same application process as all potential retailers.
It is unclear whether the province will have all the permits processed by Oct. 17, and the province will not immediately start shutting down dispensaries that stay open after legalization.
WATCH: Legal pot big topic at annual meeting of B.C.’s municipalities
“It is going to take time. You just can’t go in and shut everything down,” said Farnworth. “The reality is, particularly Vancouver and Victoria, there are a number of dispensaries that they have licensed but there are also a significant number that have ignored the city.”
Farnworth says the B.C. government will have an enforcement branch under the Ministry of Public Safety. The enforcement body will have the ability to seize product from stores operating without a permit and then levy a fine for twice the value of the product seized.
WATCH: The B.C. government conducts voluntary mouth swabs in Kelowna ahead of marijuana legalization to try and determine how it will test for drug-impaired drivers
Most communities will not be put in this situation because they did not allow dispensaries.
“As you see more legal operations open, you are going to see a number of legal ones shut down, the enforcement step up,” said Farnworth. “This is a huge public policy shift. It is going to take time to work out all the bugs. It is going to take time to work out what the consequences are.”
“People want to know what they are buying is safe, secure and tested.”