EDITORIAL: Provincial delay to open legal Squamish pot shops unfair

The provincial government needs to up its game when it comes to approving applications for legalized cannabis dispensaries.

It has been six months since legalization and yet, Squamish, like many other communities, has yet to have its first officially legal shop.

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The process to go legit is punitive, onerous and costly for entrepreneurs trying to follow the new rules.

To apply involves more than 1,000 pages of paperwork, Victoria cannabis shop owner Brandon Arsens told The Times Colonist.

Arsen’s recently approved Cloud 9 store is the first licensed cannabis shop in the capital city.

The provincial government charges  $7,500 to apply for liscencing, but that is just the beginning.

For those waiting to open a new location, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars in overhead and other expenses.

Established illegal shops have extraordinary expenses to bring everything up to the new standards, store owners tell us. All this before they sell a legal gram of product.

Of 490 paid applications to the province,  21 licenses have been issued in the 205 days since legalization.

Local store owners who want to follow the rules are left in purgatory, wringing their hands while they wait for the approvals from on high.

It should have been easier here in Squamish where support for cannabis has been as widespread as it’s been civilized.

Pot went mainstream long ago in the Sea to Sky, afterall.

Squamish has had a storefront dispensary since early 2015, that its owner says was the first in the province to receive municipal approval.

For some, the delay is because applications first have to be referred to local government or Indigenous Nations, which slows down the process but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Squamish where muni consideration and approvals were swift.

(Kudos should be given here to the former council and District staff for getting ahead of the game and setting up a framework and policies for shops to operate in Squamish.)

In response to a request for comment on the delays in Squamish, the province sent The Chief a statement saying that it couldn’t comment on individual applications, for privacy reasons.

“All applicants are assessed using the same evaluation criteria, including rigorous security screenings, financial integrity checks and local government or Indigenous nation support,” reads the email from the Ministry of the Attorney General, which handles cannabis licensing and distribution.

“There is no typical length of time for an application to be processed by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.”

The opening of private non-medical cannabis retail stores depends on several factors, according to the province, including the readiness of each individual applicant, the complexity of each application, and the readiness of a local government or Indigenous nation to accept notices of applications and return recommendations to the province.

An explanation of how cannabis retail store licence applications move through the licensing process can be found at justice.gov.bc.ca/cannabislicensing/policy-document/.

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