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‘Fundamentally important’: Penticton cannabis retailer welcomes expanded hours

Ryan Graham, general manager of Bluewater Cannabis, welcomes city council's decision to extend operating hours at cannabis retail outlets. Shelby Thom / Global News

A Penticton cannabis retailer is welcoming city council’s surprise decision on Tuesday to expedite the expansion of operating hours to 11 p.m.

“I think it is a fantastic move,” said Ryan Graham, general manager of Bluewater Cannabis.

“With COVID-19 and the global pandemic, our city council and staff have been phenomenal in other industries trying to give them the tools for success.  We saw less operating hours than any municipality in British Columbia. With the increased hours, we are now on par with the rest of the province,” Graham said.

Read more: Okanagan’s first government-run cannabis store opens in Penticton

In a unanimous decision, city council approved a motion to extend closing hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., giving business owners three additional late-night hours of sales opportunity.

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The discussion arose after city staff presented a plan to review the city’s cannabis retail store policy, two years after it was first implemented.

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The policy review will take one month, but councillors didn’t want to delay a vote on extending cannabis retail operating hours.

“I’ve long wondered why we have different opening hour restrictions on cannabis stores compared to liquor stores. And cannabis is a legal product, the same as liquor, as it’s controlled by the same branch. So it makes perfect sense to have the same hours of operation limits,” said councillor Julius Bloomfield.

Read more: City staff give green light to 4 cannabis stores in Penticton

Mayor John Vassilaki said that while he’s not favouring more cannabis stores to operate in Penticton, he does support longer business hours for stores that already exist.

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“Because of COVID-19, why don’t we give merchants the opportunity to make a little bit more economic value to their businesses in the next two months, when that is when they have the opportunity to get extra people into their stores?”

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Councillor Campbell Watt said the government shouldn’t impose regulations on private businesses.

“I think this being a legitimate business should be opened completely, and not have restrictions or a cap on them, and let survival of the fittest be the way that this moves forward, like every other business,” he said.

Councillor Judy Sentes said extending cannabis store hours will support small business owners in economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we are starting to see a little bit of light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, our businesses are struggling to get back on their feet, and I think a two-month wait can be significant, so I would very much support extending their hours,” she said.

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Graham said expediting the vote was a crucial win for cannabis retailers.

“Giving us the extra few hours is fundamentally important to the fact that we can now go after the tourism and the hospitality industry,” he said.

“We miss out on such a huge piece of the pie for our hospitality industry. Those workers, tourists, being the Okanagan, people are on the beach, they are having late dinners, so for us, having to close at 8 p.m., we certainly are missing that demographic.”

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Seven private stores have opened in Penticton and a B.C.-government-run store, since non-medical cannabis was legalized in October 2018.

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Blake Laven, director of development services, said complaints have been minimal.

“There’s been minimal public opposition or complaints on these locations, likewise, with our bylaw department and RCMP, with the licensed retail stores, very limited concerns from those organizations,” he said.

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