What could be the Cowichan Valley’s first legal recreational marijuana store is waiting for final approval of a retail licence to operate from the province.
The application for the store at 3050 Allenby Rd., which is in the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Electoral Area E, has recently received support from the CVRD’s board after a successful review and background check of the application by the Provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.
Mike Tippett, the CVRD’s manager of community planning, said the district has done its due diligence with the application and it has now gone back to the province for final approval for a business licence.
The site is the former location of the Cowichan Valley Access Centre marijuana dispensary, which closed on Oct. 17 along with the approximately seven other pot shops in the Valley that were operating illegally when recreational pot became legal in Canada.
“It’s now in the hands of the province, but we have no idea when the store will receive a business licence,” Tippett said.
A media spokesman for the Provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch said the application will go through final background and security checks, and a final inspection to make sure the location is up to standards.
“There are no timelines as to when a licence will be issued,” said the spokesman.
“It’s a brand new licensing process so we’re not estimating when it will be complete.”
Sophie Reid, who owns the Cowichan Valley Access Centre marijuana dispensary, said she expects she’ll know whether she will receive a business licence within weeks, but cautioned that she was told it may take up until May for a licence to be finally issued.
“The CVRD has written us letters of support, as well as some RCMP officers that knew our operation,” Reid said. “We just finished some renovations at the store and my staff has all their security clearances. The store is ready to go and we’re just waiting for the licence.”
Keith Batstone, a planning coordinator for the CVRD, said the district currently has three more applications for recreational pot shops that have to go through rezoning as part of the process.
The Cowichan Valley Access Centre is already in an area that the CVRD has zoned as appropriate for a marijuana dispensary.
“Based on the number of inquiries over the last few months, we’re expecting at least six more appliations for recreational marijuana stores, plus a number of production facilities,” Batstone said.
“The CVRD is considering looking at a different approach to accommodating marijuana dispensaries as the current process is taking too long. We expect the first stores that will open will be judged on their merits and once they are established, the process will likely become easier.”
Of the six applications for retail pot stores submitted to the Municipality of North Cowichan, one has been withdrawn because it didn’t meet aspects of the Cannabis Retail Sales Policy.
Chris Hutton, North Cowichan’s community planning coordinator, said two of the applications have undergone successful reviews by the Provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch and are now going through a 30-day referral period in which the RCMP, the Cowichan Valley school district and neighbouring communities are invited to provide feedback on the applications.
All the remaining applications have now been reviewed against the Cannabis Retail Sales Policy and responses have been distributed to applicants.
“I can’t say for sure, but I’d guess that the actual issuance of any business licences is still about six months away,” Hutton said.
“It’s a land-use issue for the municipality, but the province still has to do all its security and other checks. It’s a bit complicated as the municipal and provincial regulatory processes on marijuana retail stores are running side by side. It’s an entirely new industry and all levels of bureaucracy are still trying to figure out how to deal with the front of end of things. I expect that the processes will get easier over time.”
The City of Duncan received 11 applications for marijuana retail stores by the deadline of Feb. 1 under its new pilot program.
The plan is for up to three applicants to be considered as part of the pilot project with whom the city will enter into further discussions to determine if they will receive temporary use permits to operate pot shops in Duncan, if the province gives the city the thumbs up to consider them.
Peter de Verteuil, Duncan’s CAO, said it will take considerable time to review the applications.
“A date for a report to council has not yet been set,” he said. “I would not expect anything before the end of March.”