Article by, MacLean’s Magazine
Bobby Kennedy spent much of his time with lawyers and in court during the summer that was supposed to usher in Canada’s era of legal marijuana. In mid-July, the City of Kelowna had ordered him to shut down the display counter of his downtown skateboard shop, BKRY, where since winter he’d been dispensing weed gummies, brownies, dried cannabis and more. Kennedy fought to keep selling to his recreational and medicinal clients. But the B.C. Interior’s largest city was determined to push out all unregulated operators before cannabis is legalized nationwide on Oct. 17.
In Kelowna, as in much of the country, that much-anticipated day will fall far short of a new era dawning. The city, the epicentre of B.C.’s Okanagan wine region and the base for some large licensed cannabis growers, has barely begun approving rules, and is several months from being ready to pass businesses through its rezoning and permitting processes. It means Kelowna’s first legal pot stores will open not this fall but in the summer of 2019 at the earliest, says Ryan Smith, the city’s community planning manager. “The public expects us to put in place a model that is, to begin with, conservative,” he says.
The B.C. government, which has been late to the legalization game and only began taking private retail applications in August, will all but squelch Kennedy’s dream of running a hybrid shop selling skateboards and cannabis, and eventually establishing a chain of such “lifestyle cultivators.” Under provincial rules, a licensee can’t sell recreational pot as part of another business.
It baffles Kennedy that in a province globally renowned for its bud, his own city is so unready to welcome the multibillion-dollar industry. Noting that elderly clients are unlikely to shop online for medicinal cannabis, he wonders whether “more guys are going to pop up illegally,” adding: “God speak the truth, I hope they do.”
For Kelownans, legally buying recreational pot on Oct. 17 will be an online-only affair, just as it will be in Ontario, where the new government’s late decision to allow private retail will delay the arrival of legal physical outlets until next April. Some provinces will have private shops ready to launch on day one, while others will boast government-run ones—20 in New Brunswick and the same number in vastly larger Quebec; a dozen in Nova Scotia and, at least to start with, a solitary public B.C. Cannabis Store in Kamloops (two hours’ drive from Kelowna, four from Vancouver).
With billions of dollars invested, millions of grams cultivated and thousands of people employed, the grand premiere of Canada’s legal cannabis system is almost upon us. From producers to front-line workers to police to many levels of regulators, a nation is scurrying to ready itself before the curtain lifts. But it will debut as a ragged production. Parts of the set may be unpainted. Not everyone will know their lines. The theatre may be variously oversold and partly empty. And whole sections of the stage will remain in darkness.