So you want to set up a marijuana dispensary

Government licensing guide provides answers to frequently asked questions for potential and current retailers

So you want to set up a marijuana dispensary.

Or maybe you already have.

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The provincial government announced Monday that it is working towards the federal timeline for legalization of “non-medical” cannabis this July and continues to work on a framework to allow public and private stores to legally sell marijuana.

In B.C., the wholesale distribution of non-medical — or recreational — cannabis will be solely done through the Liquor Distribution Branch, which will also operate government-run retail stores. The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch will be responsible for licensing and monitoring the retail sector using a mixed public-private model.

The government’s approach, along with regulations set by the City of Vancouver in 2015, and what the soon-to-be-enacted federal Cannabis Act allows can be complicated to understand. So here are 10 questions and answers cobbled together with information from the provincial government’s “private retail licensing guide” to clarify some frequently asked questions.

If I operated an illegal dispensary prior to legalization, am I prohibited from receiving a licence to operate legally?

Having operated an illegal dispensary will not, on its own, exclude you from being considered for a licence. All applicants will be assessed using the same evaluation criteria, including background checks and local government support. Persons who have operated dispensaries prior to legalization will not receive preferential treatment in the provincial application process.

Does having a record of criminal activity exclude me, or a shareholder in my company, from obtaining a non-medical cannabis retail licence?

Having a record of criminal activity will not necessarily exclude you from obtaining a licence. As part of the required background check, police/criminal records will be examined on a case by case basis and evaluated in relation to their relevance to the application and how recent the activity or offence committed. For example, “low risk criminal activity” may not exclude a person from becoming a licensee whereas associations with organized crime will exclude a person from becoming a licensee.

I already have a liquor and/or tobacco licence. Am I automatically allowed to sell non-medical cannabis at my liquor store?

No, you must apply for a non-medical cannabis retail licence. In addition, if you are granted a licence, you will be required to operate the non-medical retail cannabis store in a completely separate business location from any liquor and/or tobacco sales.

If I, a family member, or a business partner, have an interest in a federally licensed producer or processor, can I be considered for a retail licence?

Yes, a person or company may have an interest in both a producer and a retailer. However, the LCLB will place restrictions on the business relationship between the producer and the retailer. Where there is a close association (financial or otherwise) between a licensed producer and a non-medical cannabis retail business, the retail business will be prohibited from selling any products from the licensed producer. This restriction ensures that the market remains diverse and larger participants do not consolidate and control the market. The province may create exceptions in the future to support micro-producers.

Will I have to undergo a background check?

Yes, you will be required to consent to a background check in order to be considered for a licence. Policy work is currently underway to determine which members of a corporation, partnership, or other legal business will be required to undergo a background check.

Does my store have to be a certain distance from schools or other retailers like in Vancouver?

The Province will not impose distance requirements for non-medical cannabis retailers. However, local governments will have the authority to impose additional requirements. Therefore, you should inquire with your local government about local requirements before committing to a location.

Are there any rules about what I can name my store?

Your store name must be approved by the LCLB. The name of your store cannot be misleading as to what type of business you operate. As a non-medical cannabis retailer, you cannot choose a name that would lead people to believe you are a provider of medical cannabis. For example, the words “pharmacy”, “apothecary” and “dispensary” all have meanings linked to the selling of medicines, so these words cannot be used in association with a non-medical cannabis store. You must also comply with federal legislation and regulations respecting advertising and promotion.

What is the process for obtaining local government support?

The local government must ask residents in the vicinity of the proposed retail location to comment on how the store would impact the community. The local government must consider this public input when deciding whether to support the application and must notify the LCLB of their decision by way of a council resolution.

Will there be a cap on the number of non-medical cannabis retail licences issued in B.C.?

The Province is not capping the number of licences issued. However, local governments will have the authority to make local decisions based on the needs of their communities. This means that some local governments may choose not to allow retail cannabis stores, while others may choose to cap the number of stores that are permitted to operate within their jurisdiction.

What types of non-medical cannabis can I sell?

You can sell dried cannabis, cannabis oils and seeds that comply with federal requirements.


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