Global News asks: Why a lack of open cannabis stores in B.C. on legalization day?
It’s marijuana legalization day in Canada. It should be a glorious day if you smoke cannabis. Instead, you’re left in a lurch, as there’s no store immediately close to buy a bag of weed.
Mad? Don’t look at the provincial government, blame local government, said Mike Farnworth.
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On Wednesday, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General took questions from the media regarding cannabis legalization. And among the queries he fielded included was this from Global Okanagan:
You’re saying that you’re ready for legalized cannabis, but we’re only seeing one store open up. And here in Vernon, we’re actually expecting to see stores close on legalization day. So, ironically, Vernon will have fewer cannabis stores, people are being laid off. Why aren’t we ready for this, why don’t we have our stores staying open?
“We are ready for it,” Farnworth replied. “And, in fact, as we have many of those stores that have voluntarily closed, existing dispensaries have in fact made applications to become legal stores.
We were really clear right from the get-go that local communities will have a say. In fact, they will decide what kind of stores they will have in their communities, whether they will have a government store or a private store, a combination of both.
“And I know, for example, in the Okanagan, Osoyoos has said they only want private stores. Many communities have put in place their processes in terms of zoning and distance from schools and such-like.
“Many communities have said they are ready to deal with processing applications and dealing with applications, but they want local government elections out of the way. As you know, local government elections are taking place three days after legalization, and we always knew this was going to be an issue. Our expectation is that once those elections are over, you’re going to see more stores open in the coming months, and that we’ve always maintained that it was not going to happen overnight. And so, you will be seeing plenty more stores.”
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Global Okanagan then fired this at Farnworth: Why is the provincial government not telling us how many stores have applied for applications in our individual communities? Not all provinces are being this secretive. Alberta, for example, is publishing the names and locations of applicants. How are people supposed to give feedback if government won’t even tell us who’s applying and where?
“Well, first off, local government makes the decision on the kinds of stores,” said Farnworth. “So what happens is applications are received on the government website. That application is then forwarded to the local community where they want to build that store. And the local government is the one that decides when they are ready to actually go forward and get public input when they’re ready to be able to say ‘Look, we have an application and we’re now going to consider it.’
“Local governments are in different stages of preparedness. Many are ready and there are approximately right now 35 applications that are in the latter stages of approval. A number of local governments have indicated that they are not ready and are going to wait until after local government elections, to be able to put in place their requirements. Others have also indicated that while they are ready, they, too, will wait till after local government elections.
“So you can go online and you will see a regional breakdown in terms of where applications have been located, but it’s very much a decision of the local government level. They decide. And we have been very clear with that right from the get-go. And, unlike some other provinces, where they have just gone in and said ‘Here’s where stores are going,’ we were clear right from the beginning that local communities will decide what’s in their best interest on the location of the stores, the kinds of stores, whether it’s government or private, and the number of stores that they’re prepared to approve.”
Global Okanagan again pressed the question about why not release information about who’s applying for cannabis licences.
Farnworth said the applications are confidential, then added “but what is happening is that it is local government that makes the decision when they will go public with the applications that they have received, when they believe that they are ready to deal with that application and its approval process.”
During the question-and-answer period, Farnworth said the B.C. Cannabis Store website opened at midnight and that there approximately 1,000 sales in the first hour, with demand being steady since then. He jokingly noted the website did not crash in regards to ‘high’ traffic.
“Obviously there’s interest,” he said. “As with any technology, and we’ve seen some high profile systems that have crashed, we want to make sure it’s working, that people have a good experience with it. And so far, it’s performing as we hoped it would.”
Farnworth also said cannabis legalization will be a work in progress.
“Some may think that this work is now over,” he stated. “But the truth is our government is going to be dealing with this significant policy change for years to come,” said Farnworth. “While our provincial regulatory framework provides sound foundation, I fully anticipate that all levels of government will need to continue to assess and refine cannabis policy regulations.”
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