Brian Jones is the Managing Partner of Compass Cannabis, Fernie. He’s hoping to be approved for a retail cannabis licence. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Delays leave Fernie cannabis clinics high and dry

Two dispensaries face uncertainty, mounting costs while awaiting provincial approval

It may be months still until any Fernie businesses break into the retail cannabis market.

For Compass Cannabis Clinic, not much has progressed since mid-September when they submitted their application to the B.C. Government. Managing partner Brian Jones expected that their business would be open as a dispensary over a month ago.

“We figured we would be open at least 30 days ago but we’re not, unfortunately. And we have no deadline in sight,” said Jones.

LOOK BACK: Medicinal cannabis clinic opens in Fernie

“We’re experiencing delays on the provincial level and it doesn’t seem like they’re pushing out applications quickly.”

Jones says he receives 10 to 12 calls a day from potential customers inquiring about purchasing cannabis from the Fernie location. Jones is forced to tell them to order online or travel to Kimberley.

“They’re outraged and that fails to help Fernie’s economy at all, sending people to other locations to get cannabis,” said Jones.

In addition to delaying the arrival of a dispensary in Fernie, Jones says it’s been hard for cannabis retailers who have been waiting for months to move on.

He explained that retailers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lengthy process and wish they were being treated like any other business.

“It inhibits us from hiring, from paying taxes, keeping ahead on our bills,” he said. “Access is huge when you’re creating a new market.

“Until I get this AIP (Approval in Principal), I don’t even know what cannabis will cost me, what my wholesale margins are, I know nothing.”

Compass is currently operating as a medicinal cannabis clinic and Jones says he is surprised, and confused by the delay to move into the retail market, especially because the company took every precaution to ensure their application was done exactly right.

“If the delays are indeed at the government level, like processing the applications, then absolutely, it would seem as though they’ve underestimated either their workload or the time that it would take to go through this due-diligence process,” he said.

“Which we totally agree with, the due-diligence process, and we stand behind it. But if that is the issue then they need to have more staff to deal with that workload.”

Jones believes he’s not alone in this, explaining that many other potential retailers around the province are experiencing similar delays.

B.C. remains far behind Alberta in terms of number of dispensary licenses approved by the provincial government. There are currently only about 10 in B.C., compared to close to 70 in Alberta.

Compass Cannabis is soon to transition to Starbuds, of which there are now six locations awaiting approval in B.C.

If and when their application is given an AIP by the B.C. Liquor Board, Compass can then start the process of looking into transitioning into a dispensary. Until this happens, much will remain unknown, including the cost of importing cannabis.

Once they do receive government approval, potential cannabis retailers will then proceed into another phase recently adopted by the City of Fernie, which includes public engagement and zoning bylaw consideration.

Following this process, if the applicant ticks all the boxes, it will be approved for a retail cannabis licence, and other necessary permits.

“You never know, any day the phone could ring, we could be given approval, it’ll be back in the City’s hands and we’ll just hope for the best,” said Jones.

During the public input period, Jone hopes to have strong engagement and encourages anyone with concerns to make their voice heard.

“We’re here to be a part of the community, not take advantage of the community,” he said.

Stick & Stone co-founder Dennis Schafer said they’re in a similar situation, waiting for their AIP, which they submitted in December. Considering cannabis was only recently legalized, he doesn’t have any expectations of when they will be open for business.

Schafer says that despite the mounting cost of operations, the wait has almost been a blessing in disguise.

“I’m excited,” said Schafer. “We’ve been working on this for years, and it will be good to see the final product.

“It has almost been a blessing in disguise, even though you’re paying your rent and utilities and so on, but at least you’re not rushed and making mistakes. You have time to really think things over, to make the proper decisions.

“So it has been frustrating for timelines but at the same time it’s almost been a blessing in disguise to be really, really thorough.”

Since announcing his company in November, Schafer has been hard at work transforming the former Stop and Shop off Highway 3 into a future cannabis dispensary. He said this has been a great learning experience for him so far and has allowed him to get to know many of Fernie’s contractors.

LOOK BACK: Former Fernie councillor co-launches cannabis company

Schafer hopes Stick & Stone can benefit the community by serving as a hub of education to allow for the destigmatization of cannabis.

“That’s what we’re all about, is just inviting everyone whether you agree with it or not,” said Schafer.

“To have hard, statistical facts that are truthful.”

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