It’s been more than five months since recreational marijuana was made legal in Canada, and there’s still no private pot shops open for business in the Cowichan Valley.
In fact, it may still take some time for the one that appears the closest to successfully surfing through what appears to be endless bureaucracy to finally receive a business licence.
Allenby Road’s Cowichan Valley Access Centre has recently received support from the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s board after a successful review and background check of its application by the Provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.
The application has now gone back to the province for final approval for a business licence.
One would think that the lengthy application process for the store is finally coming to an end, but owner Sophie Reid told me last week that it could be May before a licence is finally issued.
There are currently at least 20 other applications for recreational marijuana shops in the Valley at various stages through the application process, with none looking like they will be given the green light to open anytime soon.
Both the province and the various local governments in the Valley, as well as across B.C., each have their own regulatory processes covering different aspects of the licensing of the pot shops; with local governments mainly concerned with land-use issues while the province looks at security, financial and other aspects of the applications, including the background of the applicants.
Chris Hutton, North Cowichan’s community planning coordinator, explained to me that recreational pot sales is an entirely new industry and all levels of bureaucracy are still trying to figure out how to deal with the “front end” of the many issues involved in establishing it in Canadian communities.
But the federal government announced it intended to make recreational pot legal more than two years ago so one has to ask why governments, from local to senior levels, were not more prepared for processing these applications in a timely manner when pot was legalized on Oct. 17.
Local governments shouldn’t be faulted as they had to wait for Ottawa and the province to finalize the details of exactly who was responsible for the many varied aspects of the new industry before they could determine how they should move forward in accommodating applications for pot shops within their jurisdictions.
That happened just months before October, leaving many local governments scrambling.
The Valley had eight pot shops, who were all operating illegally without business licences, before October.
But, ironically, now that it’s legal, there’s less easily accessible pot for sale in the Valley than there has been for years.
However, that hasn’t put a damper on Reid’s patient enthusiasm for her shop.
“We just finished some renovations at the store and my staff has all their security clearances,” she cheerfully told me in our conservation last week.
“The store is ready to go and we’re just waiting for the licence.”
There’s no doubt the new industry in the Valley is off to a slow start but, despite the bungling of senior levels of government in kicking it off, stores will open up here at some point and I expect the processes will get easier for applicants over time.
But it appears those who hoped it would hit the ground running will have to be patient a little longer.
(Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com).