'Stigma is gone' as Vancouver's first licensed cannabis store opens doors

Vancouver’s first provincially licensed recreational pot shop opened Saturday after months of cautiously navigating red tape and experiencing a weeklong delay.

Evergreen Cannabis Society at 2868 West 4th Ave. had operated as a city-licensed dispensary until the federal Cannabis Act came into force on Oct. 17. The owners cleared out stock months ago to begin the arduous process of vetting for a provincial licence and, after finally receiving one on Christmas Eve, experienced a one-week delay in opening because of holiday timeline issues at city hall.

Mike Babins, who owns the store with wife Maria Petrucci, said he was “excited yet nervous” about the 11 a.m. opening on Saturday, but also intrigued to see how their independently owned business would change. He didn’t get much sleep in the 24 hours before their doors opened, he said.

“We had the shipment come in, we had to spend the whole day figuring out how we were going to get it stocked properly,” he said. “We basically were here until about 10 o’clock (Friday) night.”

The store must now order its cannabis wholesale from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch, rather than directly from growers, so some customers who shopped there before legalization may experience a bit of sticker shock.

Prices for bud (15 strains were displayed in sniff jars on Saturday) started at $10.49 per gram for Kiwi’s “Mango Haze” and CannTrust’s Forest Rain, about 50 per cent higher than the anticipated lowest price. A glass cabinet was stocked with oils, rolling papers, grinders and other head shop essentials.

Babins said his profit margin has shrunk a bit, too, though he likes the simple process of ordering online and is impressed by the quality of product available.

“We got a pallet of cannabis yesterday,” Babins said. “It was crazy when the shipment drove up. Everything’s prepackaged now, we know everything is tested, it’s got everything (information) on the jars, completely sanitary, nothing to worry about.”

By the time the shop opened at 11 a.m. Saturday, about two dozen people had lined up outside. They were treated to gifts including free grinders and toques from Aurora, potato chips and other munchies from the staff at CFOX radio station, and warm pastries from a neighbouring bakeshop.

Curtis Pierce of Vancouver, 23, attended the opening with two relatives and purchased some dried cannabis.

“Definitely, now that the market’s been legalized, it’s cool to check out the recreational aspect of it, now that it’s not all on the streets and it’s not in kind-of illegal dispensaries,” he said.

“I think it’s good, personally. Most of my life I’ve been buying it illegally off street people and whatnot, so I think it’s good to kind of take away that stigma for a lot of other people, because not everyone is comfortable buying it off the street.”

Evergreen didn’t make the city’s first legal sale, an accolade which went to a City Cannabis Co. location on Fraser Street that had a soft opening Friday night. A second City Cannabis Co. location on Robson Street is expected to open soon.

But Babins was still pleased to “put on some records and sell a bunch of weed” Saturday and said he was happy the other stores have been licensed.

“The more stores that are doing it right, the better, and I congratulate them,” he said. “I’m sure they’re happy for me as well. We’re just going to all do this together. This is the future, it happened, we’re alive for it.”

Ian Dawkins and Jaclynn Pehota of Althing Consulting, who worked with Evergreen throughout the licensing process, came to support their client, who came to them in 2015 when seeking a zoning variance for a city licence.

“It is a relief,” Dawkins said. “Finally we’re at this point where there is this lineup of happy, civil people waiting to spend sh–loads of money on this block.”

Pehota said it was positive to see another former dispensary transition into the legal system.

“These are small businesses,” she said. “The public should know that this process was long and expensive.”

Meantime, the B.C. government has received 394 paid applications and issued only six, including the three in Vancouver, two in Kimberley and one in Pouce Coupe. A single government store opened in Kamloops on the day of federal legalization.

The City of Vancouver stated in a Friday news release that it continues to receive applications from the province for review, and has recommended two additional stores.

The city has issued development permits to 56 locations looking to operate as cannabis retail outlets and told the permit holders to comply with city and provincial regulations or face enforcement.

Original Article by Vancouver Sun

Victor Madril