Vancouver’s first licensed recreational cannabis shop has been given the green light to open its doors.
The Evergreen Cannabis Society at 2868 West 4th Ave. has earned its provincial licence, and is planning to open its doors on Saturday.
It took co-owner Mike Babins four years to get to this point, and he credits his company’s adherence to the straight and narrow as the reason they were first across the finish line.
“We did this crazy, crazy, crazy thing: we followed the rules. We were completely open with them, we paid our taxes from day one. We tracked everything we ever purchased, we tested everything we purchased when we were a medicinal dispensary,” he said.
“You were able to trace everything we did.”
Even so, he said the process was incredibly stressful, involving independent audits of he and his wife, repeated inspections, keeping the site cannabis-free and the requirement to triple their security.
“My wife and I had to tell them everything we’ve done in the last 20 years, where we’ve worked, where we’ve travelled to, who we worked for, where every penny came in,” he said.
“We basically had to show there was no organized crime in our past.”
Even so, Babins said he doesn’t believe the city and provincial licensing regime is overly strict — and he said he’s prepared to be patient with the governments as they iron out kinks in the regulation of the industry.
“We’re the first big country to legalize cannabis. Everybody’s watching us to make sure we don’t mess it up, especially British Columbia with our reputation for B.C. bud,” he said.
“So of course they’re going to be very, very strict and slowly open things up as they see what works and what doesn’t and we’re going to avoid a lot of accidents that way.”
As for what will happen on Saturday, when Evergreen opens the door, Babins says he’s got one hope in mind.
“We’re going to sell a lot of weed,” he said, laughing.
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Province-wide, 374 would-be recreational pot shops have submitted applications and paid fees. Of them, 217 have been advanced to local governments or First Nations for recommendation, but just four have been granted licences.
In November, the City of Vancouver said it had advanced letters of recommendation — a key step in obtaining a provincial licence — to Victoria for four recreational cannabis stores.
Even after applicants obtain that provincial licence, they must still return to the city to get a business licence.
Several dozen other cannabis businesses have earned development permits from the city, one of the first steps in the licensing process.
It’s unclear when the city will begin aggressively cracking down on the nearly 40 pot shops who don’t have a licence or aren’t in the licensing process, but Evergreen’s approval could bring that scenario one step closer.
Earlier in December, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in the city’s favour in a battle with dozens of rogue pot shops which had been flouting the city’s homegrown licensing regime established in 2016.
The city said the ruling affirmed its power to use “all the tools at the city’s disposal” to conduct enforcement on unlicensed operators.
Earlier in the fall, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth warned stores outside of the system that a crackdown was coming, though he said the province would ramp up enforcement as more legal outlets came online.
— With files from Jordan Armstrong