After the City of Delta gave the green-light to a cannabis retail store Monday, entrepreneurs in the now-legal industry are questioning when, if ever, Surrey will follow suit.
While there’s opportunity to buy cannabis on the black market in Surrey, there are no opportunities to do so legally, despite the federal government having legalized the sale of recreational cannabis in 2018.
The intention was to keep profits out of the pockets of criminals, however, it’s up to the province and municipality to approve retail locations.
Within the first few months after legalization, Surrey received as many as nine applications to build stores. Some of the applications had already received provincial approval, but the city was firm on its policy of not permitting cannabis retail stores.
In January 2019, the city’s director of public safety told Black Press Media that the city “is not accepting any applications.”
“The bylaw prohibiting cannabis retail and production in Surrey has not changed and remains in effect,” Jas Rehal said at the time.
Contacted Wednesday, the City of Surrey has not yet responded to a request for information about whether the bylaw remains in place.
According to Statistics Canada, by the end of 2020, nearly 20 per cent of Canadians aged 15 or older had used cannabis within the previous three months.
Currently, Surrey residents must commute to White Rock, where there are a number of cannabis retail shops, or shop in New Westminster.
Amar Sandhu, who owns Central Cannabis, said his company put in an application to open a store shortly after legalization. Sandhu said when they submitted the application, they were already approved by the provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.
“At that time, there was three applications that went to the city, one was ours,” he said. “But there was no support.”
Sandhu said he’s made efforts to speak to councillors, including the mayor, about the possibility of a store in Surrey.
“The mayor said that ‘Not all councillors are together. We have to get everyone on the same board, together, to approve this.’”
Mayor Doug McCallum has not responded to a Peace Arch News request for comment.
“It’s just a closed door. Nothing is moving forward. They are listening, but nothing is coming forward. No one is raising the point,” Sandhu said.
Seed & Stone owner Vikram Sachdeva, who owns a yet-to-open cannabis retail store on White Rock’s Marine Drive and has received approval to open Delta’s first store, said he’d jump at an opportunity to open a shop in Surrey.
The municipal political barrier, he indicated, is just one of many hurdles facing the cannabis industry.
“It’s a challenging industry. No banks want to work with us, no loans being given out. There’s no lines of credit. Financially…. I might have to sell some of my other business just to keep this afloat. No matter how good of an operator you are, or how much experience you’ve had, and how much of a good citizen you’ve been, you’re associated with cannabis. I don’t even know why they legalized it,” Sachdeva said.
Enough time has passed, Sachdeva said, that it’s been proven that retail cannabis stores do not increase crime rates in the neighbourhoods where they are situated.
He indicated it’s only a matter of time before Surrey changes its bylaws to be more open to a cannabis store.
“I understand city and staff are bound by the decisions that they get and as soon as the leaders decide that it is a good thing for the city, I’m sure they will make that decision. We are going to wait patiently.”
Wednesday, Peace Arch News reached out to Couns. Steven Pettigrew, Laurie Guerra, Mandeep Nagra and Doug Elford.
Of the councillors contacted, only Guerra and Elford responded.
Elford said he’s supportive of retail cannabis stores inside city limits, while Guerra said she would be OK with a pilot or trial run, “with maybe one store in Surrey.”
“Haven’t had much community desire for them actually or at least very few approaching me,” Guerra said in an email.
“White Rock and Semiahmoo there seems to be plenty of access to satisfy those who wish to legally partake.”
Coun. Brenda Locke has previously expressed support for a cannabis retail store in Surrey.