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New West wants to pave way for government-run cannabis store

A government-run cannabis store may have missed out on the first round of applications currently being considered by the city, but it may not have to wait until the next round being before being considered.
The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch is holding a job fair on Monday, Jan. 6 to recruit prospective employees for its B.C. Cannabis Store, which is expected to open in early-summer 2020 at Queensborough Landing shopping centre.

A government-run cannabis store may have missed out on the first round of applications currently being considered by the city, but it may not have to wait until the next round being before being considered.

When the federal government legalized cannabis, the city’s plan was to begin with a blend of five public and private operators, and to have one shop in each of the downtown, uptown and Sapperton neighbourhoods and two shops in remaining commercial areas. All five of the applications awaiting public hearing dates are private stores; the proposed government B.C. Cannabis Store at Queensborough Landing Shopping Centre ranked lower in the scoring system than the private store proposed in Queensborough.

The city has agreed to monitor the process related to the first round of applicants, but council has also directed staff to move forward immediately on a separate review the process related to public cannabis stores.

“It had always been our intent that we would consider one,” Mayor Jonathan Cote said of a government store. “I would actually … suggest that we actually create another process just to look at how can we get a public store in our community but doesn’t have to wait for another round.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he’d like to see the city move forward quickly to create a policy related to public stores. Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said the process that was put in place for the first round of applications created some difficulty for the way the public applicant interacted with the checklist used to evaluate applications.

“One of the things I think we didn’t recognize was sort of the scale of the difference between public store and private store operations, and how we would have to evaluate it,” said Coun. Patrick Johnstone. “I think if we went back and did this all again, I think we would have approached it in a different way. That was part of our learning experience.”

Currently, the city is waiting for the results of the provincial government’s financial integrity and security checks for the first five applicants and will schedule public hearings related to the applications once the results of the checks are known.

A May 27 staff report summarized the cannabis retail location review process and outlined the next steps in the process, which includes a series of approvals from the city and the province before stores can open. A monitoring period will give the city time to assess whether changes need to be made to the process when considering future applications for cannabis shops.

“The monitoring period, we feel, is an important period for understanding what changes need to be made to the scorecard and what changes need to be made for the next rounds,” said planner Mike Watson. “We can certainly start to put the framework together for that next round and bring that back to council. We think we can learn some lessons through the conclusion of this existing process as well that we’d like to factor in.”

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said he wants to ensure the process doesn’t favour corporations over small, independent business people. He noted that delays in getting checks back from the province can be challenging for independent businesses.

“I’d like to see a system where some of those independents are not denied their opportunity to launch a business and try to make a go of it,” he said.

Cote suggested it would be appropriate for council and staff to have a workshop to discuss issues related to the next round of applications, including when that should occur and whether changes need to be made to the scoring requirements used to rank the applications.

Since deciding which five applications will be considered in the first round of public hearings, some of the applicants have appeared before council to express concern about the scoring and ranking of their applications.

“Staff is confident that this process has led to an objective and equitable review process per the council approved process,” said a report to council.