Kamloops chose a risky approach to retail cannabis sales and it paid off - InfoNews

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Kamloops chose a risky approach to retail cannabis sales and it paid off

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July 18, 2019 - 3:30 PM

KAMLOOPS - Kamloops started early and got ahead of the curve when it came to cannabis sales in B.C. Now it's an example for other municipalities just getting started on the process.

Kamloops became the first city with a legal cannabis shop on Oct. 17, 2018. Dave Jones, the business licence inspector and property use co-ordinator with the City of Kamloops, says that this was due to early planning, a bit of risk-taking, and a desire from the city council to provide legal cannabis.

“Well before the legislation, not only (before) the federal side was completed, well before provincial legislation was completed, the City of Kamloops had already had a road map of where they wanted to go,” Jones says. ”Our council is very proactive about wanting to make sure the citizens of Kamloops had legal access to cannabis.”

Jones says the city got to planning their own zoning regulations and other requirements while it was still being determined what degree of authority the higher levels of government would have when implementing provincial and private stores.

“There was some thought that the province was going to regulate a little more, that they might be the ones to come out and put restrictions on how close to a school, how close to a park, but that didn't come through,” Jones says. “We took the approach of ‘What do we want to see as a minimum’ and that's what we put in. If the province would have come in with something and overlaid it with further restrictions, there was nothing we could have done about that.”

Although there wasn’t much guidance available for municipalities, the city decided to move ahead with planning and preparation, even if it proved to be in vain. Some other communities wanted to wait it out until they had more information from the provincial government.

“There were different group concerns because the idea of everything was unknown, and they always wanted to hear what the final provincial and federal regulations were going to be before they took that leap,” Jones says. “I took a different approach.”

The advance planning paid off, and Kamloops was, and remains, the home to the only B.C. Cannabis stores in the province. The second location opened recently in Northhills Shopping Centre and a third store will be coming to downtown.

“For us to come on board and be ready, the province was very grateful they could invest in Kamloops and say that cannabis was available to the general public on legalization day,” Jones says.

Other communities have observed Kamloops’s strategy while planning out their own path to the cannabis market.

“Over the year, we've had a lot of municipalities call us and say, ‘Why did you do this? What were you thinking? What was the outcome?’”

Jones notes that even communities who have been supportive of cannabis long before legalization were wary to implement changes to local legislation.

“Every community, even though we're all the same, the people in every community definitely think differently. In the Kootenays, the economic growth has been to do with cannabis for many years, so they are pretty accepting of anything but they just wanted to see how the provincial government was going to rule out and what would happen,” Jones says.

In addition to being the first for having provincial run cannabis shops, Kamloops is also taking a lead on the private cannabis retail sector. Before legalization, Kamloops had 13 illegal stores selling cannabis. According to Jones, city council was aware of illegal dispensaries operating in the city limits but wanted to ensure those who need it medically weren’t left with only black market options. Plus, Jones says that shutting down illegal stores is time-consuming and costly, as closures are often contested in court. He says when it came time for legalization, the city council was willing to do whatever was recommended to ensure citizens could access cannabis legally.

“We did a fair amount of conversation with the public, with social planning committees, a whole bunch of people to talk about where these places would be appropriate. Then we looked at the dynamics of Kamloops, how it laid out… we felt that if we stretched the restrictions too much, then we would be underserved and we'd still be promoting the black market in Kamloops,” Jones says. “There were 13 illegal stores, so I'm assuming Kamloops can provide enough business for 13 stores.”

Jones said that other municipalities have more of a wary approach, approving a couple of private locations before committing to opening up the market to any potential entrepreneurs.

“Our council did not support that mindset, it was a free enterprise and they wanted to give as many entrepreneurs an opportunity to get into their new culture business. They wanted to make sure we were not supporting it just on a government-run cannabis regime, they want to have public and private. Whether it was local business owners or other town business owners, they had an opportunity to come into Kamloops and chase that business venture here.”

According to Jones, the timeline to get licensing approval for privately owned cannabis stores varies from municipality to municipality. He notes that 18 locations in Kamloops are in the process of being approved to sell cannabis, but after receiving city approval, they are now undergoing a provincial approval process. He says this can take anywhere for four to eleven months.

“We're waiting, and we’re hoping sooner rather than later the private stores will get the nod and well get some more stores in town,” Jones says. “A lot of people who are putting these requests in are gambling a bit. It'll be interesting once we get a number of stores open, and we can find out the profit margins for those stores. I always said there were 13 illegal stores, so I'm assuming Kamloops can provide enough business for 13 stores.”

Kamloops’ proactive measures are backed by a community that is mostly in favour of legalization.

“We haven't heard any negative stuff,” Jones says. “I think we had only one complaint from day one, one from the Columbia Street location. Somebody was complaining about how long the lineup was.”

To check out B.C. Cannabis Stores opening soon, click here. For a map of licensed, privately owned cannabis stores in the province, you can check out this map made by the Vancouver Sun.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 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.

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