When news broke that the federal government was hoping to have marijuana legalization in place by Canada Day 2018, some in the Okanagan likely had visions of celebrating the country’s birthday by purchasing some newly legal cannabis.
That wasn’t how it worked out, and governments at all levels had a hand in the delay.
Now, a year later than some expected, the first legal cannabis store in the Okanagan has opened its doors on Canada Day 2019.
Co-owner Sarah Ballantyne is happy her SpiritLeaf location on 53 Avenue in Vernon’s north end is up and running.
“It is just an incredible feeling. We are so excited to be here today on Canada Day to celebrate the legalization of cannabis,” she said.
Ballantyne and her partner are new to the cannabis industry but have previous experience in the construction business, and thought opening a cannabis store was a “great business opportunity.”
When asked if she deliberately picked Canada’s birthday to open up shop, Ballantyne laughed and simply said, “We thought it was a good day to open.”
On July 1, the new business was drawing in tourists and locals who seemed pleased to see an Okanagan option for buying legal cannabis.
“I think it is amazing. I think it is a huge door that is opening for everybody here,” Kailey Kelly said as she headed into the shop.
Why the delay?
The federal government wasn’t able to get legalization in place until October 2018.
When legalization did go ahead, the City of Vernon said it was still months away from being able to process store applications, a necessary part of the provincial licencing process.
Ballantyne said she applied for the provincial licence last August. Her store received the necessary civic support in late March, but only recently got its provincial license that allows it to open.
The province has defended the length of time it has taken to process applications for cannabis stores, saying the application requirements are detailed and robust in order to protect public safety.
The city has defended its own processing time, saying higher levels of government didn’t give municipalities enough time to prepare for legalization.
While Ballantyne is happy to see her store in operation, not everyone thought the north end commercial building was a good site for the marijuana shop.
During the civic process, the city received a 68-signature petition opposing the proposed location for SpiritLeaf. Critics were worried about parking and the store’s proximity to a daycare, and had concerns the shop would “attract a less than desirable clientele.”
“We’ve had a great flow of traffic today so I think our location is great,” Ballantyne said.
“There will always be a stigma around cannabis, or at least there will be for a long time. That’s their opinion and we look forward to offering a welcoming environment to anyone who comes through our doors.”
The SpiritLeaf location in Vernon will likely not be the only legal Okanagan cannabis shop for long. Many other applications have received civic support around the valley and are in the process of seeking provincial approval.