Fort St. John city councillors gave approval to a fifth private cannabis retailer on Monday, though the province is dragging its feet on issuing its first license to local retailers.
Canna Cabana is slated for the former home of NEAT near the Whole Wheat and Honey cafe. The city received 19 letters of support after a public notice appeared in the Alaska Highway News in early June, and city staff have no concerns with the proposal.
Canna Cabana is a brand of Alberta-based cannabis company High Tide, also known for its Smoker's Corner stores. It is the fifth private retailer to come before council for its blessing before heading to the province for final screening and approval.
By all indications, however, the province appears to be cornering the Fort St. John market with the pending opening of its government branded BC Cannabis Store at North Gate Place, also home to the Bank of Montreal and Dominos. A job fair for that store was held July 9, though provincial officials say there is no firm date for its opening.
Recreational cannabis was legalized in October 2018, with four interested retailers quick to receive approval from the city over the following five months.
The provincial delays have frustrated proponents, whose costs have been mounting as they await approval.
One local proponent, Cannabis Corner, submitted its application for a licence nearly 11 months at a cost of $7,500. It has been paying lease on an empty storefront downtown for nine months, along with utilities, legal fees, and building plans. The province will not provide the company with any timeline for its application.
"We are completely in limbo with no idea as to when we will be approved to even start renovations etc. before we could even consider hiring employees," Danny Lepine, one of the partners, said in an email.
Another proponent, Glory Cannabis, said their financial checks have been extended to family members and its investors.
"There should be a great deal of due diligence put forth in the investigation of candidates, and we have been extremely cooperative with the LCRB as they have done so in our case," said company co-founder Sheldon James.
"On another level, we as a company are dismayed at the ongoing expense that we have continued to incur throughout this process."
HIVE Cannabis and West Coast Cannabis have also applied to operate in Fort St. John.
The province has approved four cannabis stores in the Peace, including a second store in Dawson Creek that opened on July 6. There is also a store in Pouce Coupe and Tumbler Ridge.
Across the Interior and the North, the province has approved four stores in Salmon Arm, three each in Castlegar and Trail, two in Vernon, and one in Prince George.
The province says it is processing more than 400 applications for stores throughout B.C., and said it could not comment on the status of applications for companies waiting for an answer in Fort St. John.
Applications are placed in the queue as they are received, according to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, with priority is given to applications with correct information and documentation. Outstanding documentation and complex corporate structures could affect the timelines of an application, the province noted.
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