Canada is less than two days away from becoming just the second nation in the world with legal cannabis. But as Canada’s legal industry comes online this Wednesday, the nation’s vast and well-established network of marijuana retailers is about to become more illegal than ever. Once Canada’s Cannabis Act, Bill C-45, takes effect, unlicensed private retailers won’t just be breaking the law, they’ll also forfeit any chance of ever obtaining a license to operate legally. And that’s why British Columbia officials are advising the province’s dispensaries to shut down by Wednesday. Assuming most will, cannabis consumers in B.C. may have a hard time purchasing cannabis from a legal storefront. When Oct. 17 rolls around, B.C. will have just one licensed retail store.
Across Canada, illicit dispensaries have served as a kind of stopgap for non-medical cannabis consumers as the country wound its inevitable way toward legalization. These private, unlicensed, non-medical retailers were never legal, of course, but they operated as a kind of open secret. And aside from routine raids and crackdowns, officials have largely turned a blind eye to these underground “pharmacies,” especially with full legalization on the horizon.
In cities like Toronto and Vancouver, residents know where these illicit shops are. Tourists can even look many of them up on popular weed apps. And many may be under the impression that once Oct. 17 hits, they can stroll into their neighborhood cannabis shop the same as any day, only now with the law on their side. And for sure, many of these illicit dispensaries could remain open, opting to take their chances. But B.C. officials say they’re rolling out a new enforcement branch with the power to seize cannabis from illicit dispensaries. It could also assess the owners with fines of double the value of the cannabis seized.
Those who want to operate legally, then, will want to close their doors to the public, according to British Columbia Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth. And they may want to get going on the application process. Indeed, over 170 retail operating license applications have already piled up in the provincial ministry. British Columbia’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) has to review and consider all of them. So far, they’ve found 62 of them to be complete and under consideration by local governments. Just 35, however, are under review in jurisdictions that are ready to pass council resolutions approving local cannabis retail.
After all that, the provincial ministry still has to complete background checks and security clearances on all principles, and to ensure organized crime has no ties to an applicant’s revenue stream. Farnworth says B.C. will see more shops open their doors in the coming months. But on Wednesday, just one licensed cannabis shop will open in Kamloops. All other legal cannabis purchases will have to go through B.C.’s online LCRB portal. Farnworth says the province has made sure the website won’t crash due to the anticipated surge in traffic on Wednesday.
As for the dispensaries currently operating illicitly in B.C., they’ll have to close if they ever hope to become legal retailers. Farnworth says that there’s no “grandfathering in” of currently existing dispensaries. They’ll have to go through the application process like all other retailers. Many have already begun the process, but they will have to close down until they obtain the required permits.
GlobalNews is reporting that British Columbia is both ahead of and behind other provinces in terms cannabis retail. Ontario, for example, has fallen behind after changing its regulations to permit private retailers alongside the LCBO. New Brunswick, by contrast, has a private retail industry fully licensed and ready to go. In Alberta, provincial authorities have given out temporary licenses to private cannabis sellers. So, yes, weed will be legal across Canada on Wednesday. But access to licensed shops and legal storefronts will be highly uneven from province to province, at least initially.
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