Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is advising dispensary owners who hope to legally operate recreational marijuana shops in B.C. to shut their doors before Wednesday.
Farnworth spoke to reporters on Monday morning, two days before cannabis becomes legal in Canada. There will be one government-run store open, in Kamloops, on Wednesday and no private stores have yet been approved to open through the permitting process.
“My advice is that there are new rules coming into effect on October 17 and they should abide by those rules,” said Farnworth. “There is no grandfathering of dispensaries. They have to apply like everyone else. My understanding is a lot of them are applying and they have to go through the local government approval process.”
“I know a lot of them are shutting down because that is the route they want to take to try to get into a legal permit.”
There is a new enforcement branch that has been created within the Ministry of Public Safety. Farnworth says it is not active yet but will start ramping up enforcement soon and can take marijuana from illegal dispensaries and levy a fine double the value of the drugs.
WATCH: Farnworth on online pot sales in B.C.
The province has received 173 paid applications from across the province to operate legal pot stores.
Of those applications, 62 of them have been passed to local governments and of those 35 are ready for the local governments to proceed with next steps.
The province is looking for more information from most of the paid applicants and cannot process them until they get the information. Private marijuana retailers must go through background checks and the locations must be approved by the municipal government.
The province is conducting background checks to ensure that none of the money involved in the operations is linked to organized crime.
As for whether people can buy drugs from dispensaries on Wednesday, it is complicated. The sale of the drugs will be illegal because the marijuana does not come from the provincially regulated distribution branch nor have the locations, at this point, gone through the process of getting a permit.
“The 17th of October is in many ways going to look a lot like it does today,” said Farnworth. “What we are doing is putting in a legal cannabis regime and it is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take some time.”
Online sales will be available on Wednesday to offset the one retail store. Farnworth says he was concerned early on about whether the portal would be able to handle “the anticipated volume.” The province has focused on ensuring that the site doesn’t crash.
“We are confident the system will work on Wednesday,” said Farnworth.
WATCH: B.C.’s pot preparedness
British Columbia is in the middle of the pack when compared to other provinces on retail locations. Ontario is well behind partly because of the recent change in government. Alberta has 17 temporary permits in place for private stores and New Brunswick has a fully functioning retail network operated by the province ready to go on Wednesday.
When asked about the potential revenues lost for the province because of a lack of stores, Farnworth says that doesn’t concern him:
“This is not about revenue and I have been clear about that from the start. Right from the get-go when we went down to Washington and Oregon the message was do not look at this as a revenue generator in your first few years because if you do you are making a significant mistake,” said Farnworth.
“Revenue at this point is not the primary concern.”