Laurie Witzel (Right) and staff member Holly Hehr have been busy renovating their new cannabis store in Fernie.  James Snell/The Free Press

Laurie Witzel (Right) and staff member Holly Hehr have been busy renovating their new cannabis store in Fernie. James Snell/The Free Press

Retailers blunt about Fernie cannabis market

Collaboration with other Fernie cannabis retailers is a priority for Witzel.

On Tuesday, Fernie City Council carried a recommendation to the Province that a third Non-medical Cannabis Retail Store License be issued for 502 8th Avenue in Fernie to Earth’s Own Naturals Ltd. In a Regular Meeting of Council agenda, City staff said the proposed use and location conform to zoning Bylaw No. 1750 “and is not anticipated to have negative impact on the local area.” Regardless of area impact, is the Fernie cannabis market approaching over-saturation with the addition of a third cannabis store?

“Yes and no,” Laurie Witzel, owner of Earth’s Own Naturals said. “I believe in business, and I believe in competition, as long as it’s on fair playing ground. I think that we can all work it out. I don’t know that a population of 5000 can withstand any more competition.”

Collaboration with other Fernie cannabis retailers is a priority for Witzel.

“It’s a much bigger picture,” she explained. “I want to work with the other two retailers on a much bigger level, because I’m also the vice-president of ACCRES, the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers. There’s a much bigger picture of what is happening in the cannabis industry, and I would love to get the other retailers involved in this, because we all have a voice. So even though I’m locally competing with the other two stores, I also want to engage them in fixing some of the challenges that have been rolled out by the B.C. Government and the Federal Government. I’m hoping we can all band together.”

Sarah-Jane Nelson, co-owner of Stick & Stone Cannabis Co., said in a statement that it’s difficult to know if the Fernie cannabis market can tolerate another store. “This is a brand new, and needed industry for the Elk Valley,” she said in a statement. “Competition is a good thing, and will allow the customer to choose which shop they prefer. We, of course, have concerns, as any small business owner would.”

Nelson said that based on sales to date, she doesn’t feel that Fernie can support another cannabis store.

“We are hopeful the community chooses us,” she said. “As we will need the support to keep the doors open.”

The City of Fernie responded to an inquiry from The Free Press about a third cannabis store affecting other cannabis retailers.

In a statement, the City said, “On Tuesday, October 15, Council voted in favour of recommending to the Province the approval of a Non-Medical Cannabis Retail Store License for 502 8th Ave. The proposed location conforms to the use permitted in the Zoning Bylaw, and is not anticipated to have negative impact on the local area.”

The City of Fernie said the Province requires this endorsement to issue a license.

“Once the applicant receives a license from the Province, they are eligible to follow the regular City process and apply for a Business License,” they said.

“Council chose not to regulate cannabis retailers differently than other businesses, and as municipalities do not typically regulate competition, there was no rationale for setting a maximum number of cannabis stores. The City did not receive any submissions from existing cannabis retailers during the public input period.”

Witzel, who opened her first cannabis store in Kimberley B.C., began working in the cannabis sector when her late husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She is resolved to continuing down the path of opening her second East Kootenay cannabis business.

“I opened up Earth’s Own Naturals in Kimberley in January of 2017,” she said. “The impetus to that was my husband had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and he was given about nine months. Cannabis wasn’t a part of our adult life but we had another business in town, and one of our clients came to us and talked to us about her mom that had lung cancer and that she was using cannabis to help, and it was amazing.”

Witzel decided to investigate and research cannabis.

“We decided to leave no rock unturned,” she explained. “We also did many other things as well, because cannabis isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s certainly an amazing part of what you might choose.”

After Witzel’s husband died, and her Kimberley cannabis store was in operation, she decided to expand her business.

“We seem to have a really great model, in that we try to educate,” she said. “Even if you want to walk in and just talk to us. I have some really skilled employees and we’ve all been touched medically by something. Our hearts are still there, even though we are a recreational store. We are known for our product knowledge, our customer service, and the vibe of our store.”

The Earth’s Own Naturals Fernie location is anticipated to be open mid to late November.

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