Marijuana dispensaries operating in the Cowichan Valley appear to be following the advice of Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.
Most, if not all, were closed on the morning of Oct. 17, the first day that recreational pot was legal in Canada.
On Monday, Farnworth advised dispensary owners who hope to legally operate recreational marijuana shops in B.C. to shut their doors before Wednesday.
There was only one government-run store, in Kamloops, open anywhere in the province as of Wednesday, and no private stores have yet been approved to open through the permitting process.
At least eight have been operating in the Cowichan Valley without business licences from local governments.
“My advice is that there are new rules coming into effect on Oct. 17, and they should abide by those rules,” said Farnworth in an interview.
“There is no grandfathering of dispensaries. They have to apply like everyone else. My understanding is a lot of them are applying and they have to go through the local government approval process. I know a lot of them are shutting down because that is the route they want to take to try to get into a legal permit.”
The phone message at Mill Bay’s Warmland Medicinal Cannabis Centre said on Wednesday that the dispensary was temporarily closed while it seeks the shop’s legalization.
Phone lines at Duncan’s Green Tree Medical Dispensary and at the Cowichan Bay Dispensary were not in service on Wednesday.
The province has received 173 paid applications from across the province to operate legal pot stores.
Of those applications, 62 of them have been passed to local governments and of those, 35 are ready for the local governments to proceed with next steps.
The province is looking for more information from most of the paid applicants and cannot process them until they get the information.
Private marijuana retailers must go through background checks and the locations must be approved by the municipal government.
The province is conducting background checks to ensure that none of the money involved in the operations is linked to organized crime.
Rob Conway, manager of inspections and enforcement with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said the CVRD does not have any active applications for cannabis dispensaries in any of its electoral areas.
But he said the district is aware of approximately half a dozen dispensaries currently operating within its borders.
“The CVRD’s board recently amended zoning bylaws to regulate the production and sale of cannabis in anticipation of legalization,” Conway said.
“Those regulations are now in effect, and at least one of the existing dispensaries is in a location where the use is permitted. That dispensary is the Cowichan Valley Access Centre on Allenby Road whose property now permits cannabis storefront retailing as a permitted use.”
The Cowichan Valley Access Centre was also closed on Wednesday.
Conway said the CVRD expects the others dispensaries will apply to rezone, but that will take some time to sort out.
“Our understanding is that the province will be licensing cannabis dispensaries and that local government will have a role in the issuance of those licences,” he said.
“To date we have not received any licence applications from the province.”
Peter de Verteuil, CAO of the City of Duncan, said there are no dispensaries currently within city limits, legal or otherwise.
“There has been lots of interest, but only one application for a location in the city was submitted through the province at this time,” he said.
“However, the city is not accepting applications until we create a process for them to apply. That will be created over the next couple months.”
A statement from North Cowichan said that the municipality has, so far, received three rezoning applications for retail cannabis stores.
“To the best of our knowledge, we have two operational retail cannabis stores in North Cowichan,” the statement said.
North Cowichan’s council adopted revisions to the zoning bylaw to prohibit the sale, distribution or trade of cannabis in the municipality in August.
Council now requires those interested in operating a cannabis retail location to first apply to rezone a particular property, thereby ensuring there is a process that allows for public input and gives council control over the location and number of retail cannabis stores that will be allowed in the municipality.
North Cowichan began accepting rezoning applications for retail pot shops as of Aug. 16.