Justin Trudeau has made a large group of Vancouver Island entrepreneurs very excited and left a larger group of public officials desperately seeking guidance.
Since Trudeau’s election in November, the interest in marijuana dispensaries on Vancouver Island has ballooned as business interests have tried to leap ahead of the queue on the legalized sale of pot.
Led by more than 30 dispensaries in the city of Victoria, the informal count of Vancouver Island pot shops is now around 50, and includes facilities in communities like Sooke, Sidney, the Cowichan Valley, Chemainus, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Campbell River.
Alex Robb is the community liaison for the Victoria-based dispensary firm Trees, which has three outlets there and a fourth in Nanaimo.
Robb acknowledged the current Wild West climate surrounding the industry, but said there is an opportunity for businesses and communities to work together for their mutual benefit.
He said the Island is home to a significant group of knowledgeable growers and marketers with professional ideas on how to protect consumers and create an industry that can thrive, despite fears being created by the boatload of speculators looking to cash in.
“It is already a market and an industry that was already pretty highly developed on the Island,” he said. “Our aim is to be a legitimate business.”
Right now, that is not the case. According to police, every one of those 50-something stores is currently breaking the law. It is the pending change of that law that has authorities from Port Hardy to Esquimalt struggling with how to deal with either their presence, or the fact that something similar is coming soon.
Campbell River welcomed its first two dispensaries this month with police raids within days of their openings. Victoria tolerates its shops, while working to develop a regulatory framework. Nanaimo RCMP watched the city’s shops expand for months before raiding three of them in December, but have taken no action since. And Port Alberni — just the second city in the entire country to pass a dispensary bylaw — granted Vancouver Island’s first official pot shop business licence in March.
The rest of the Island seems to be watching and waiting for direction.
While the industry has taken advantage of non-profit exemptions to avoid business licensing requirements in some communities, the City of Duncan has thus far deflected overtures because it has no such exemption.
Mayor Phil Kent said that buys his council time. It can wait for specifics from the federal government on what the marijuana law actually will be before drafting regulations to address it.
Most other Island municipalities are taking the same tack, but some can’t wait until spring 2017, which is when Canada’s health minister Jane Philpott told the United Nations General Assembly the law dictating how pot can be sold would be ready.
Campbell River is, as we speak, rushing to get a bylaw in place to make its dispensaries illegal under city bylaws, a situation Port Alberni addressed in the opposite fashion with a licensing bylaw enacted three months after the first dispensary opened there.
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