VANCOUVER - British Columbia cabinet ministers defended the provincial government's pace in approving marijuana stores as they toured the only brick-and-mortar shop in Kamloops Friday.
Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth visited the new BC Cannabis Store in the province's Interior. The Liquor Distribution Branch is currently engaged with a number of municipalities about opening additional stores, Eby said.
"The key for them is what we found in Kamloops, which is a municipality with clear guidelines, with an intent to work with the (branch) in establishing a store," he said.
"There's no question that over the next period of weeks and months, they're going to see more and more stores coming online, both public and private."
The managers of two illicit pot shops that were raided by RCMP in Port Alberni on Wednesday have criticized the province for not processing applications more quickly. Both stores have applied for provincial licences and are waiting for approval.
While B.C. only has one legal store and a website, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have 20 stores each and Alberta has 17. Ontario, on the heels of a recent provincial election, has no physical stores.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said other provinces established stores with very little community consultation, but B.C. made clear that local governments could decide what kind of stores, if any, they wanted.
The province also has local government elections on Saturday and many communities have said they want to deal with licences and locations afterward, Farnworth added.
"We've taken an approach that was very much collaborating with local governments and we believe that was the right approach to take."
Farnworth also said the province could not legally issue private retail licences until after the federal Cannabis Act came into force on Wednesday. He wouldn't explain when asked why the act was a roadblock for B.C. but not for other provinces.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said in an email that the province could legally create the regulatory framework to allow provincial licensing before legalization.
"However, it could not issue a licence to sell cannabis (which is an official instrument of government) while it was still federally illegal," he said.
Alberta issued interim licences to 17 retailers by early October that allowed them to order product and get stores ready for legalization. Stores with interim licences that fulfilled all conditions were issued a sales licence on Wednesday so they could open to the public.
In B.C., the provincial government forwards applications to municipalities, which review them and make a recommendation to the province. The province then decides whether to issue a licence. Some municipalities have also established their own business licences in addition to that process.
Jag Sandhu, a City of Vancouver spokesman, said the province has notified it of eight applications for stores. Seven applicants have previously been issued development permits, the first step that needs to be completed, and must now post a sign on site for 14 days notifying the public they intend to obtain a provincial retail licence.
Once the provincial licence is granted, the operator can apply for a municipal business licence, he said.
"We do not have a timeline on when the first store will open as it will depend on the applicant completing the process and fulfilling all provincial and municipal requirements," he said.
The City of Surrey has banned any business growing, producing or storing cannabis, and plans to tackle retail marijuana after the local election.
"Council endorsement of the specific details of a Surrey framework, including retail sales, has not occurred. This will be an issue that the new Council will review once they are in office. Until then the existing bylaw is in place," said Terry Waterhouse, general manager of public safety.
Most B.C. residents who purchased legal weed this week did so online. There were 9,175 sales online and 805 purchases at the province's only physical store in Kamloops on Wednesday, according to the Liquor Distribution Branch.
But on Thursday, sales slid nearly 70 per cent, with 2,563 online transactions and 521 at the BC Cannabis Store.
The branch is not releasing the total value of the sales, which it says is its policy for liquor store sales as well.
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