The first recreational cannabis store has finally opened in Nelson after a year-long wait following legalization.
Kootenay Cannabis Tree, which is located in the basement of the Front Street Emporium building at 601 Front St., launched Nov. 1 and is currently open Thursday to Sunday. Executive director Jim Leslie said it will expand to seven days a week in December.
The business was among three approved to operate in the city last February, but it didn’t receive its license until Aug. 30.
Leslie said the store’s opening was delayed by extensive background and financial checks. After receiving the license, Leslie said the store also needed time to hire staff, have their own criminal record checks completed and order product.
Although his store is now through the licensing process, Leslie is critical of the bureaucracy that made for the long wait to open.
“Honestly, 11 months to get from start to finish is way too long and is another example of why B.C. is second last in the country when it comes to cannabis sales in the new environment,” he said.
Nelson’s zoning bylaw allows for one store in the Lakeside-Industrial zone, where Kootenay Cannabis Tree is located, as well as two downtown, one in Railtown and one on Nelson Ave.
Nelson Potorium and Green Room were the successful applicants for the downtown locations, although neither have opened. Buddy’s Place, meanwhile, is expected to open soon downtown after being allowed a three-year temporary use permit.
The city is also currently without any medical dispensaries after Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club announced in September it would comply with a provincial order to shut down.
Leslie’s store was previously the Kootenay Medicine Tree dispensary, and he believes price markups are the reason why many of his former clients haven’t returned. A Statistics Canada report released in October showed the illegal market averages $1.78 cheaper per gram than legal cannabis.
“It’s terrible. I think most people will go back to the black market because the diversity of products is not in the stores yet, and even if they were the prices are pretty high for a lot of people,” he said.
“We’re bringing in lower cost options but it’s still more money in many cases than the products we used to sell. That right there is cause enough for people to go to the black market if they don’t have the funds to continue to get their medicine at the rate in which they need it.”
Even though it just opened, Leslie admitted to being concerned about Kootenay Cannabis Tree’s future. He said the market prices will mean he has to find new clients rather than just those who previously relied on him for affordable, medicinal cannabis.
“However it goes, we’re going to continue to make the industry better, we’re going to continue to do the best we can for the patients now thrown under the bus. That’s where we’re at.”