Thirty-one local entrepreneurs have submitted applications to operate recreational marijuana shops in Kelowna.
But for each applicant revealed by the City of Kelowna planning department this week, a unique lengthy and costly application process needs to be completed which the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce is worried may be to regulatory over-zealous.
“There is a cultural shift and mindset change going on with this, but the reality is now marijuana is a legal product so we just can’t be looking at the enforcement side. This is an economic development opportunity that will provide jobs and future education opportunities already being recognized by our local institutions such as Okanagan College,” said Dan Rogers, executive director of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.
“The Chamber’s interest in this is while we have no members yet in this line of business, we expect we will. Our comment at this stage is more about ensuring that for any level of government dealing with this, the bureaucracy is kept to a minimum and these applications be treated as a legal business entity like any other.”
Just over one-third of the applications received by the city are concentrated in downtown locations, with a particular focus on the 160-block of Pandosy Street, bordered by Leon and Lawrence avenues.
Another application is proposed for Capri Mall while the Rutland business core has been identified as possible store locations for five applicants.
The city has indicated approval for any of these applications is likely to be closer to the end of 2019.
The public will have an opportunity to comment on each application as each store that reaches council will need to proceed through the required rezoning process.
Before reaching council, each application will also be reviewed by a city advisory committee and graded with an overall score based on addressing such issues as pre-set regulations, security measures, store design and economic business plan.
The applications given the highest scores will be given priority for initial approval.
Rogers said the city can heed the lessons learned from implementing private liquor stores and how initial safety concerns about location and access have proven to be exaggerated.
“With liquor stores, the experience we have seen is that these stores were thought to raise potential problems that, in the end, never arose, and I hope the city will be open-minded to that as we go forward,” he said.
Rogers noted the B.C. Chamber office is monitoring how communities deal with adopting legal pot shops, and the regulatory process tends to vary rather than offering regulatory consistency.
“We understand the need to be cautious at this stage but we also don’t want to see regulations put in place that are so onerous that it limits future economic benefit opportunities.”
Laural D’Andrea, executive director of the Uptown Rutland Business Association, said now that pot shops are legal, there should not be an effort to hide them with excessive location restrictions beyond the distance from schools and parks.
“Going back to last year when a number of business groups met with the planning department to consult with us on guidelines and parameters, at first their thought was to not allow locations on Highway 33 and some other major areas, and we said ‘why leave them off?’ I think they were a little surprised by that reaction,” D’Andrea said.
“Progress is progress. These new businesses are legal so they should be out in the open and treated like any other legit business.”
D’Andrea said landlords in the URBA zone were getting calls of interest about securing retail locations, and were initially leery about the idea.
“But as time has gone on and some of them have thought a bit more about it, they are saying now, ‘Why not?’” she said.
Mark Burley, executive director of the Downtown Kelowna Association, said the DKA is watching the approval process unfold, curious as to how many of the these initial 41 applicants pass the approval hurdles.
“All 41 could get approved or maybe only five. We have to wait and see what happens,” Burley said.
“It is a pretty big outlay of cash to complete the regulatory process and from what I understand right now, shortage of product supply is an issue.”