Vernon city councillor opposes 'unfair' B.C. Cannabis Store - InfoNews

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Vernon city councillor opposes 'unfair' B.C. Cannabis Store

The B.C. Cannabis Store in Kamloops is seen in this file photo on opening day Oct. 17, 2018.
Image Credit: FILE PHOTO
June 16, 2020 - 4:30 PM

A Vernon councillor is criticizing the provincial government for not doing enough for small business on the eve of the province opening its first cannabis store in the city.

The government-owned B.C. Cannabis Store is due to open tomorrow, June 17, at 2401 58 Avenue, opposite Walmart in the north end of the city and is in close proximity to several independently-owned licenced cannabis stores.

"I don't feel that the government should be competing with small businesses," councillor Dalvir Nahal told "These small businesses are competing with the very people they are buying the products from. It's not fair competition."

Two blocks away from the government store, Blended Buds Cannabis store owner Kevin Demers said the cannabis industry playing field is far from level.

"And it doesn't help when the province moves in and spends... taxpayer money to open a store in a municipality that already has 10 stores operating with private owners," Demers said. "They've definitely got the leg up in setting the margins... and we're just trying to survive."

Demers said licenced stores have to buy cannabis directly from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch and pay a 15 per cent wholesale tax.

Outside of the new government store, licenced pot shops in Vernon also have to compete with unlicenced stores around the city on reserve land. These grey market stores can buy directly from licenced cannabis growers, something provincially licenced stores are prohibited from doing.

Demers said he doesn't mind competition but the system currently is rigged against provincially licenced stores. Prior to legalization in 2018, the Blended Buds owner said his store, Hemp and Wellness, had 17 employees, saw over 400 customers daily and paid $40,000 a month in taxes. He said he closed down when legalization came into place in November 2018, applied for a licence, "bled money for a little over a year," and opened in October 2019.

While Demers said the government has vastly improved the quality of products available wholesale and prices have dropped considerably, he'd like to see the provincial government drop the 15 per cent tax to make the industry fairer. Allowing private stores to buy directly from licenced growers - as is the law in most other provinces - would also create a fairer industry.

Demers also questions why the provincial government is spending vast amounts of taxpayers money opening a cannabis store when multiple independent small businesses are struggling?

Coun. Nahal also says the provincial government should be doing more for small businesses and not directly, in an unfair manner, be going into competition with them.

"We had COVID-19, a struggling economy and now (the province) is competing with these small businesses," she said. "It doesn't seem to me that the government is supporting small businesses."

Nahal said she was absent from the council meeting so she did not vote when the application went to council for approval. The land was already zoned to allow a retail cannabis business and the application met all bylaws.

A media release from the province says the B.C. Cannabis Store in Vernon will employ approximately 10 staff and offer a range of products including edibles, extracts, topicals, dried cannabis flower, oils, capsules and pre-rolls, and will have a strict two pieces of identification policy for anyone who appears under 30 years old. The store will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and most statutory holidays.

The pot shop will be the 17th the government has opened in the province.

— This story was corrected at 2:45 p.m. Jun. 17, 2020 to say Coun. Dalvir Nahal did not vote on the application as she was absent from the meeting.

–– The story was corrected at 3 p.m. Friday, Jun. 19, 2020, to say that government-run stores also have to pay a 15 per cent mark-up on the wholesale product.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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