There will only be one government pot shop in B.C. when cannabis is legalized in Canada next month, but the province is already warning unlicensed operators that a crackdown is coming.
Kamloops will be home to the one and only BC Cannabis Store come Oct. 17, and it is not clear whether the province will have approved retail licences for any private outlets by then.
The only other legal avenue to buy pot will be through an online government sales platform.
“Legalization isn’t going to happen overnight,” said Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth, who provided a snapshot of the province’s legalization readiness.
Farnworth said the province has received about 100 applications from private retail outlets and that would-be retailers require a background check.
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“Come Oct. 17, legal shops will start to be opening across British Columbia. They’re not going to open all at once,” he said. “My expectation is that there are a few that will open on Oct. 17, and then over the months after that you’ll see more and more of them opening up.”
Even so, Farnworth is already warning unlicensed pot shops that their days are numbered. Under the legalization regime, B.C. is establishing a new enforcement branch called the Community Safety Unit, which will operate out of Farnworth’s ministry.
That unit will be empowered to seize illegally sold pot without a warrant, an action Farnworth said will ramp up as more legal outlets open.
“The reality is this: illegal stores can either shut down on their own volition, or they will be shut down by the enforcement unit that will be in place in B.C,” he said.
“We are very confident it will stand up to any legal challenge. It will be able to confiscate illegal product, and it will also be able to administer fines of up to twice the value of that product.”
The new unit will also target anyone selling pot to minors, and pot “bootleggers” will be risking up to 14 years in prison.
Don Briere, the proprietor of unlicensed dispensary chain Weeds Glass and Gifts says he’s concerned about the province’s approach.
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He said a government regime that limits dispensaries risks empowering organized crime through the creation of a black market.
“Wherever there are no dispensaries, crime proliferates. They could sell a pound of cannabis and they could buy five to 10 guns,” Briere said.
“In Surrey, where there are no dispensaries, there are shootouts every other day.”
Briere is currently battling the City of Vancouver, the province and the federal government in court but said he still hopes to see the province “come to the table” and negotiate a plan that makes room for more dispensaries.
“Hopefully we can get this cleaned up to the point where we can properly distribute cannabis both through retail outlets as well as for the medical people,” Briere said.