Cannabis shops that had been operating in the Cowichan Valley shut down after legalization, and have not yet reopened. (Citizen file)

Year in Review: Legalization is here but no cannabis shops in Cowichan yet

2018 was a big year for pot supporters but frustration is growing over slow startup of new system

As 2019 begins, there is still no indication as to when people in the Cowichan Valley will be able to buy recreational marijuana from a legal dispensary.

Canada’s first day for legal pot was Oct. 17, but, ironically, that was also the day that most, if not all, of the approximately eight marijuana dispensaries in the Valley shut their doors.

Most of the dispensaries, which were operating illegally, closed down as part of their efforts to receive provincial and municipal approval to operate after the province made it clear that continuing to operate after Oct. 17 could jeopardize their chances of becoming legal.

RELATED STORY: CANNABIS SHOPS STILL IN LIMBO IN THE VALLEY

Liam Butler, a public affairs officer for the Ministry of Public Safety & Attorney General, said 56 paid applications have been received from the region of Vancouver Island-Gulf Islands-Powell River.

Of those, 26 have been referred back to local governments for their consideration as the locations must be approved by the respective municipalities.

Butler said a number of them are expected to be still undergoing background checks by the province even if they get approval from the municipalities.

The province is conducting background checks to ensure that none of the money involved in the operations is linked to organized crime.

“It’s tough to say when and where the first private retail marijuana dispensary in the province will be fully licensed to open,” he said.

“It will simply be a matter of the timing of processing the applications. It’s taking a long time due to a number of factors, including the recent municipal elections.”

RELATED STORY: MARIJUANA CAUSING CONFUSION IN COWICHAN

Rob Conway, manager of inspections and enforcement with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said in October he expected it would still be some time yet before retail pot stores are allowed to operate in the CVRD, and likely other municipalities across the province.

He said that while the CVRD’s board had amended its bylaws to regulate the production and sale of marijuana within its jurisdiction, federal and provincial regulations regarding pot are still evolving and will likely necessitate further amendments to the bylaws.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Conway said

RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Tammy Douglas said only two dispensaries on the Island, both in Port Alberni, were raided and shut down by the police since Oct. 17.

RELATED STORY: TWO B.C. CANNABIS DISPENSARIES RAIDED ON LEGALIZATION DAY

“The RCMP in B.C. will continue to take a measured approach when dealing with illegal storefronts, with public safety being the priority,” Douglas said.

“Detachments will continue to set enforcement priorities in consultation with local governments, partners, and citizens in the community. Police will gather evidence and take enforcement actions accordingly.”

Local governments. That’s the crux of the matter.

At least eight dispensaries had been operating in the Cowichan Valley without business licences from local governments.

RELATED STORY: HEALTH OFFICERS OFFER POT ADVICE TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

The provincial government said there would be no “grandfathering” of dispensaries. Even existing businesses had to apply to their local governments.

RELATED STORY: CHEMAINUS DISPENSARY SUCCUMBS TO LEGAL PRESSURE FROM NORTH COWICHAN

And, since every local level of government in the Valley has decided that anyone who wants to put in a marijuana store must apply individually, this has slowed things significantly.

The local process involves coming before council, and then a public hearing. The province also wants information from most of the paid applicants and cannot process them until they get it.



lexi.bainas@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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