With just a few days to go until recreational marijuana is legal in Canada, Kelowna city planners have not seen the avalanche of applications to open pot shops they were anticipating.
In fact, they have not received a single application since opening the two-month window for applications Oct. 1.
But community planning manager Ryan Smith said he still thinks the city could receive between 60 to 80 applications before the window closes Nov. 30.
“We’ve had a lot of calls expressing interest,” said Smith Monday.
He said he recently talked to one company that is planning to make six separate applications for marijuana retail stores in the city.
Last month, when city council approved the rules that will govern location and city approvals for pot shops, Smith said the planning department expected “hundreds” of applications. So many in fact, the department felt the onslaught could, in Smith’s words, “cripple” the planning department which is already very busy with a multitude of other development proposals.
So city council appointed a seven-member committee of municipal and law enforcement officials to vet store applications as they come in. Issues such as the proposed location, security, business plans and financing will be looked at by the committee as part of the vetting process. If approved by the committee, an application will be forwarded to the planning department and then on council for consideration.
The committee’s process will be overseen by an outside consultant to make sure it is being conducted in a fair manner for the applicants, said Smith.
Given the process put in place, it is not anticipated there will be any legally operating stores selling marijuana in the city before next spring.
Currently, there are two stores continuing to operate illegally in the city, said Smith. Earlier this year, the city shut down another eight that were operating illegally and are continuing to try and have the two remaining store closed.
Smith said once marijuana is legal on Wednesday, the issue of the illegally operating stores in the city will be passed on to the province, which has established an enforcement unit that will go after illegally operating stores across B.C. in an effort to close them down.
Under the city’s new rules for pot shops, to initially apply to have land re-zoned for a recreational marijuana retail store, an applicant must pay a $1,000 fee. If the application is forwarded for consideration, another $9,500 fee will is required. Neither fee is refundable if the application is rejected, said Smith.
He said the high fees will help the city recoup an estimated $200,000 it estimates it has spent getting ready for marijuana legalization.
Unlike other jurisdictions which have limited the number of stores they will allow—West Kelowna for instance is allowing only four stores and Richmond is not allowing any—Smith the number in Kelowna is unlimited now but will be reduced as applications are successful and the rules about the distance from other stores, schools and parks kick in.
Smith said he believes the city is ready for legalization and has done all it can to prepare.
A map has been developed identifying hundreds of potential locations for stores and it is posted on the city’s website. Smith said the map will change as applications are approved, and the number of possible locations will diminish.
Asked about the slow start to applications, Smith said one reason could be that while there are many possible locations, some landlords may be unwilling to rent out their premises for marijuana retail stores.
“We didn’t anticipate that,” said Smith.
As a result, he believes applicants may be taking their time to make sure their applications are as well-put together as possible before they present the to the city.
In addition to municipal approvals applicants must also get a licence from the province.
Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth has said the province has, so far, received about 250 applications for stores across B.C.
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