How many shops are too many for once city?
That’s the question up for debate in B.C.’s Kootenay region.
At least three cannabis operators are calling on the City of Castlegar to limit the number of cannabis stores that can operate locally.
Manager of Spiritleaf, Eddie Podlvelnikoff, said it hasn’t been easy for him to compete against five other local cannabis shops.
“I think I can just say we’ve been keeping our heads above water,” said Podlvelnikoff.
“However, if more cannabis shops are allowed or one of the current shops doesn’t close, I don’t think there will be much survivability for us here.”
With all of the stores forced to buy and sell similar cannabis products, Podlvelnikoff admits it’s been hard for his store to stand out from the others. His staff have tried to have good customer service, raffles, and product giveaways to increase traffic to their store.
When Spiritleaf was one of the first three cannabis shops to open up in Castlegar during the summer of 2019, Podlvelnikoff claimed his store owners had no idea that so many other shops would eventually be allowed to operate.
“What the owners have said is that they believed they’d only be one of three cannabis stores in Castlegar,” said Podlvelnikoff.
“The city didn’t seem to do a good job explaining this.”
Jimmy’s Cannabis owner Jeff Weaver also doesn’t believe the number of cannabis stores operating in the city is sustainable.
“Right now, approximately 70 per cent of the cannabis purchases that take place in Canada every day are on the black market while 20 to 30 per cent take place in the legal market,” said Weaver.
“Even though that percentage is shifting towards the legal market, I just can’t imagine a town of 8,000 people like Castlegar continuing to support this amount of dispensaries.”
While Weaver mentioned it’s been difficult to stand out from other cannabis shops with everyone carrying similar products, excellent customer service and his prime location along Columbia Avenue have helped keep his store’s revenue up.
Weaver emphasizes there’s already enough local cannabis shops to satisfy public demand.
“We already have many people that have put their livelihoods on the line to try and run these cannabis shops,” said Weaver.
“I think the city is well served at the moment and there’s no new cannabis stores needed. The city should definitely be putting a cap on this for the time being.”
Prohibiting a government-run cannabis shop in Castlegar and creating more buffer zones between cannabis shops are other requests Weaver has for the city.
The Higher Path store owner Dave Streloff also echoed the comments voiced above.
“Naturally, with every new store that opens, it reduces the customer base of every store that is currently operating. That makes it harder and harder for each store to survive with each new license granted,” said Streloff.
“There is no question that six stores is too many for a community of this size, where the black market continues to thrive. It is inevitable that not all six will survive long term.”
Streloff said he would like city staff to revisit the cannabis issue.
“On some level I get the approach they took, of letting the market sort itself out. But maybe it’s time to revisit the whole discussion and cap it where it’s at,” said Streloff.
“I would also suggest that a realistic maximum number of stores for this community is likely three, so as stores inevitably close perhaps the cap should be lowered.”
Despite the demands, CannaLand Cannabis Boutique supervisor Cindy Stringer is one person that believes putting a cap on the amount of cannabis stores wouldn’t be effective.
“I don’t think the number of cannabis shops has really impacted our business. I think traffic to our business has stayed the same,” said Stringer.
“If anything, I think we’ve picked up customers from other places.”
Stringer said she’s received more visitors from other stores who weren’t able to answer all of their cannabis-related questions.
In response, city spokesperson Bree Seabrook said council members thought it was better to have an open market for cannabis when they decided not to limit the number of stores.
“The Regional District Central Kootenay shares a similar approach to our city council and it boils down to the fact the cannabis retailers are asking to be treated the same as other retailers are,” said Seabrook.
“They looked at cannabis, said it was a regulated substance, and essentially they decided to treat it in the same way as liquor stores, for example, where there isn’t a limit on the amount that can operate.”
In terms of public consultation, Seabrook said people should already be aware that there’s no limit on the number of cannabis stores allowed when they submit an application to the B.C. government to operate their store. She also mentioned the city isn’t involved with their application process and doesn’t have an opportunity to talk to them during their application.
The B.C. government only sends a referral to the city when its received a cannabis store application. The city then seeks public input about the proposed cannabis store and sends it to the B.C. government as part of the application process.
Seabrook notes there are many ways people can reach out to council if they want to begin discussions around limiting the number of cannabis stores.
“Reaching out with an email or letter to council can be one good way to start this conversation,” said Seabrook.
“People can also request to speak at a council meeting as a delegation if they have a desire to reopen this debate.”
As of the fall of 2020, there are at six cannabis shops in Castlegar, four shops in Trail and three shops in Nelson.