Kelowna’s pot shop application prediction went up in smoke

Now city says cannabis retail stores won’t open until late April or early May

In the end, Kelowna’s great pot shop application onslaught didn’t materialize.

Instead of the “hundreds” of applications city planners predicted would flood its application inbox in light of the federal government legalizing recreational cannabis in Canada, only 41 rezoning bids for potential store locations trickled in during the 30-day application submission window.

With an estimated 900 possible locations across the city available to start, planners at city hall feared an avalanche of rezoning applications would “cripple” their department. So, in preparing for legalization, they recommended a separate committee be set up with city staff and RCMP representatives to vet applications. Only the ones that met all the stated criteria would be forwarded for consideration.

And then they waited. And waited. And waited.

A few weeks into the window they were still waiting. By that time, the expectation had dropped from hundreds to maybe 60 or 70.

In the end, in keeping with the city’s reputation —a last-minute, walk-up crowd when it comes to events— the pot shop people also decided to wait to the final days before the Nov. 30 deadline to apply.

Despite the lower than expected number, the city still plans to press ahead with the committee to vet applications. That’s because a number reportedly want to be located in the same general area downtown and that could prompt the city to use a lottery system to decide the winners and losers.

The impact of legal pot sales on the city has yet to be determined given city hall’s unfounded gold-rush prediction of retailers clamouring for every available spot to sell cannabis.

The reasons for the lower than expected number could be three-fold.

First there’s the price to play. A total of more than $10,000 just to get the land rezoned for a pot shop is a steep price to pay. Then there’s the willingness—or in this case, the unwillingness—of landlords to lease space for pot shops in the city. And, finally, there’s the city’s stringent rules about what information an applicant has to provide to get past the vetting committee—business plans, security plans, staffing and host of other info.

Unlike regular rezoning applications, the public will just get to see who is applying and where. Any supporting information will be kept under wraps.

It all adds up to a long wait for the legal pot shops in Kelowna.

While Lake Country vies to become the first municipality in the Okanagan to have a legal shop selling cannabis up and running, and West Kelowna moves ahead with its plans to allow four retail stores in that city, Kelowna buyers will have to bide their time, or travel, to buy their pot—that is if they want to do so legally.

The same city planners who estimated the avalanche of applications now say shops won’t be open in Kelowna until at least late April or early May.

Smokers and tokers are likely hoping those planners are as wrong about the timing as they were about the number of applications that rolled in.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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