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Vancouver cannabis shops and consumers grapple with new restrictions

When Canada legalized cannabis last week, many Vancouver dispensaries and consumers felt they took a step backwards

By Brandon Wei , in City , on October 27, 2018

When Canada legalized cannabis last week, many Vancouver dispensaries and consumers felt they took a step backwards in a city already known for its thriving grey market.

In the week following legalization on Oct. 17, no retail locations in the city were provincially licensed. On day one, only one outlet in Kamloops was licensed and Vancouver shopkeepers, interviewed by The Thunderbird, did not know when licences would be issued for Vancouver stores. But many kept their doors open, even though they weren’t selling any cannabis.

Mike Bibins, a manager of Evergreen Cannabis Society in Kitsilano, said his shop would remain open but not have any cannabis on site until the store received a licence.

“We’re going to sell vaporizers and rolling papers and be here to answer questions,” he said.

In preparation for legalization, Bibins liquidated his shop’s supply of cannabis.

“I got a call from the province saying, ‘You’re so close to the end – don’t take a chance. Get rid of everything,’” he said. “We’re going to take a loss for a few weeks, but long term, we’re doing the best thing.”

Green Panda Dispensary hosting a clearance sale on the eve of legalization.

Regulation or restriction?

Up until legalization, cannabis dispensaries in Vancouver were able to operate with a development permit from the City of Vancouver. But now that cannabis is legal, retailers must obtain a provincial licence along with a municipal business licence.

Alex, who requested his last name not be used, is an employee at Cannabis Culture Dispensary on West Broadway who said his store will remain open but expressed concern about the new system.

“The government didn’t look at the model that’s already in place. They looked at how we can regulate and control this,” he said.

Alex also said his shop will still sell edibles and concentrates, which are classified as unregulated substances and not legal under the new law.

Lucas, a manager at Chronic Hub Social Club Society, said consumers will likely have a hard time finding their favourite products — particularly edibles and concentrates.

“I can imagine there’s going to be a big black market for it,” he said. “A lot of people are just going to go back to the way it was before we even had dispensaries and go back to a dealer.”

Nicki Cheang, a student from the University of British Columbia, said he’s also worried about availability.

“There are certain products I’ve grown accustomed to and I know for a fact that the government isn’t going to sell them […] to people for quite a while,” he said.

“Legalization is a great thing for everybody, but I think, right now, they’ve got it backwards a little bit.”