Only one of three B.C. government cannabis stores have made the grade in Kelowna

Customers walk out of British Columbia's first legal B.C. cannabis store with shopping bags of product in Kamloops, B.C., Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.
Customers walk out of British Columbia's first legal B.C. cannabis store with shopping bags of product in Kamloops, B.C., Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The province has struck out on two of its three efforts to open its own cannabis stores in Kelowna.

On Monday, Feb. 25, Kelowna city council rejected the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch’s application for a store in Willow Park Shopping Centre in Rutland because it violated the city's zoning rules for such stores.

The government is taking the defeat in stride.

“We have been committed to establishing BC Cannabis Stores where there is a strong business case supporting the development of the public store,” a Liquor Distribution Branch spokesman said in an email. “We will continue to monitor alternative locations that meet the city’s bylaw framework.”

Cannabis was legalized on Oct. 17, 2018. The City of Kelowna put together an application screening process that called for proposals by Nov. 30, 2019. It also required that stores be at least 500 metres apart.

There were more than 40 applications, of which two were from the government.

One of those applications was rejected because other nearby private applications scored higher.

But the City did approve a location in Dilworth Centre earlier this year. That space is currently being renovated but the Liquor Distribution Branch and spokesman said he has no idea when it will be open.

The City of Kelowna has approved 20 cannabis store applications this year and only two have opened so far: Hobo on Springfield Road and Cheeba Cheebas on Rutland Road.

The hold up in getting more stores open is due to a difference in licensing rules for private versus government stores.

Private stores have to wait until their sites are fully rezoned before applying for a licence from the province. Right now it’s taking eight to nine months, Kelowna’s community planning department manager Ryan Smith said.

It’s only after private operators get the provincial licence that they can start renovating their buildings.

The government, on the other hand, doesn’t have to wait to get a licence so it can start renovating as soon as it gets the rezoning approved from the City.

The Willow Park application was not part of the first intake. It was filed in September 2019 and it wasn’t until last month that an application was filed to amend the zone for that location so it didn’t have to be 500 metres from Cheeba Cheebas.

The government was also late in applying for a store in West Kelowna. That city was only going to allow four such stores in downtown Westbank but had approved five before the government's application was filed. It was approved.

At Monday’s council meeting in Kelowna, the applicant argued the two stores were on opposite sides of Highway 33 and were not visible to each other so the 500 metre rule should be waived.

Council recently agreed to a similar waiver for one applicant downtown but refused to do the same for the government application, although the vote was 5-4.

“I did agree to Pandosy (Street) and Leon Avenue,” Coun. Mohini Singh said during the council meeting. “It was just under the 500 metre distance. It was a new business coming to an area that needs a new infusion of cash and desperately needs a facelift.”

But she agreed with City staff who said it is too early in the process of approving cannabis stores to make a second exception and that the City needs time to see what the impact of the other 18 approved stores will be, once they finally open.

“Having government run stores in neighbourhoods actually helps set a standard and maintain a standard,” Coun. Gail Given argued in favour of the application.

While Coun. Loyal Wooldridge supported the application, he didn’t have the same view of the quality difference between public and private stores, saying, on a visit to the Hobo store in Kelowna, it was very professionally run.

A provincial web page lists all government run B.C. Cannabis Stores that are opened and ones that are listed as “coming soon.” Dilworth and West Kelowna are not on that list but one in the Smart Centre in Vernon is included.

Councillors Maxine DeHart, Ryan Donn, Luke Stack and Brian Sieben voted with Singh in rejecting the Willow Park application.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.