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Part of cannabis and small business and retail

The government-run BC Cannabis Store in Kamloops, seen hours before opening on Oct. 17, 2018, is the first licensed cannabis retailer in the province. A second outlet, private retailer Tamarack Cannabis Boutique, has just been approved for a sales licence and expects to begin selling legal cannabis soon.

Jeff Bassett/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia has licensed its first private cannabis retailer, a small shop that has been selling underground products in the southeastern corner of the province for the past three years.

Tamarack Cannabis Boutique in Kimberley, B.C., had been breaking federal drug laws despite having a local business licence, and now the shop has provincial approval, a path to legitimacy that dozens of dispensaries across B.C. hope to take.

“This is my second historic first,” Tamarack’s co-owner Tamara Duggan said on Thursday. In 2015, her store was the first illicit dispensary in Canada to receive a municipal business licence.

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Despite long being the face of Canada’s underground cannabis industry, British Columbia only has one other licensed retail outlet: a government store in Kamloops. Across the Rockies, Alberta’s private system has 49 outlets in more than a dozen communities.

As of Wednesday, British Columbia had received payment for 255 retail applications and had sent 44 of those to local governments to consider for final approval. The office of the Attorney-General had no comment when asked how many it expects will be licensed this year.

A City of Vancouver spokesperson said five shops have asked neighbours to weigh in on their applications as part of the public consultation that is one of the final steps toward getting municipal approval.

Ms. Duggan said provincial inspectors gave the outlet, which had been emptied of all illicit products, a final walkthrough on Tuesday and told her she could pay the annual provincial licensing fee of $1,500 and begin ordering from the regulated supply. On Wednesday, she was selling the last of her old supply of dried cannabis flower sourced from local underground growers. She expected to order “the maximum I can afford at this point” through the government’s online wholesale platform on Thursday and said customers should be able to buy legal cannabis next week.

Still, she said it is disheartening that she cannot offer edible products until they become legal at some point next year. She said most of her roughly 3,000 customers are seniors, who prefer edibles and are not keen on following the government’s advice to bake their own.

Ms. Duggan, who does not use the drug, said she had massive community support in the licensing process and her business donated more than $50,000 to local charities over the past three years.

British Columbia has been slow to get its licensing system started. The NDP had to begin crafting a regulatory regime when it came to power last summer, long after other provinces had theirs under way. Many communities also signalled they wanted to wait until after the Oct. 20 municipal elections to create bylaws for the sector.

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Meanwhile, enforcement at illicit shops has been slow, apart from Mounties entering two illegal dispensaries in Port Alberni and seizing all cannabis products in plain view. Those two stores and dozens of others in Vancouver and Victoria have paid the $7,500 application fee, but remain open.

Mike Babins, co-owner of Vancouver’s Evergreen Cannabis Society shop, said it has been tough in the past two weeks to watch competitors continue selling illicit cannabis while they await approval.

Evergreen had a massive blowout sale the day before the drug was legalized and has since offered only cannabis accessories. Mr. Babins asked his two employees not to bring their own cannabis to work to avoid any potential conflict with the authorities.

“We’re still selling rolling papers; sometimes, we’re making a whole three bucks a day in sales,” he said.

Available now: Cannabis Professional, the authoritative e-mail newsletter tailored specifically for professionals in the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Subscribe now.

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