Cannabis retail finally legalized on Bowen Island

Residents of Bowen Island say they have no issues with the recently passed bylaw allowing pot shops

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By Emily Lyth

Three years after Canada greenlighted the sale of lawful recreational marijuana, Bowen Island has legalized local pot stores with virtually no public opposition.

The island municipality northwest of mainland Vancouver initially issued a blanket prohibition of cannabis stores. A sole exception was made for businesses applying for spot rezoning, provided they obtained provincial sales licences and adhered to specific guidelines.

Island’s only pot shop

Happy Isle Cannabis Company opened in May 2019 less than a kilometre from Bowen’s Snug Cove ferry terminal, and became the only legal retail cannabis store on the island. Glenn Cormier, the store’s co-owner, says he helped Bowen’s municipal government navigate the nation’s legalization of cannabis.

“For me, the extra process of rezoning at a local level was unnecessary, and I tried to communicate that,” Cormier said. “But I also understood that cannabis was a very new thing, and people were treading very lightly on how to proceed at the local government level.”

Rather than wait up to a year to permanently rezone their store’s property for retail cannabis sale, Cormier says they chose to apply for a temporary use permit.

In just three months, Happy Isle Cannabis Company was approved to open by the municipality.

“The only challenge with a temporary use [permit] is it is temporary,” Cormier said. “It gives you a three-year operating time, and after that three years is up, you still need to go through your [permanent] rezoning.”

Happy Isle Cannabis Company’s application for its permanent zoning permit was approved earlier this year without any disputes from the public or municipality.

New bylaw passed

During the store’s zoning application process, two of the municipality’s committees suggested implementing a bylaw that would allow cannabis sales across the island. On Oct. 12, the municipality adopted that bylaw after months of council meetings and public input.

According to Cormier, none of Bowen Island’s residents seemed to oppose the bylaw.

Council received only four letters from residents addressing the matter, all of them in support of the bylaw, and one of them from Cormier and co-owner David Bellringer.

Rev. Lorraine Ashdown, minister of the Little Red Church United, has lived on Bowen Island for 20 years. She says that if anyone has been opposing the bylaw, they’re a “silent minority.”

“I’m glad it’s there,” Rev. Ashdown said of Happy Isle Cannabis Company. “I think some people require some of the products that they have for pain control and other anxiety issues.”

The initial recommendation to implement a bylaw banning cannabis sales came from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, which lobbies on behalf of local governments across the province.

Cormier says the bylaw confused many residents at first.

“A lot of people didn’t understand what was going on,” Cormier said. “Cannabis is becoming legal, why would our supposedly liberal little government here on Bowen Island want to make it all illegal?”

Maureen Nicholson, a Bowen Island councillor, says that implementing the union’s bylaw system helped the island to open a legal cannabis store faster than other municipalities in B.C.

“The fact that we banned it did not indicate that we didn’t support it,” Nicholson said. “It demonstrated that we wanted to be able to respond as quickly as possible if a prospective retail cannabis opportunity arose.”

What this means for Bowen Island

Happy Isle Cannabis Company was the 14th retail cannabis store to be issued a legal operating licence by the province’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch. There have now been nearly 400 licences issued across B.C.

Despite the municipality’s long process to legalize retail cannabis sale across the island, both Cormier and Nicholson say it’s unlikely they’ll see another store open on Bowen.

“I don’t anticipate that there will be a massive surge of additional cannabis stores,” Nicholson said. “I mean we’re a small island. There are relatively few retail areas.”

Cormier says that issuing another cannabis licence on Bowen isn’t logical considering the number of potential customers that live in the municipality.

Based off a recent BC Stats population estimate for the province, there are just over 13,300 residents per each of the 389 non-medical retail cannabis stores in B.C.

Approximately 3,680 residents live on Bowen Island, meaning that Happy Isle Cannabis Company already has a much smaller potential customer base than the rest of the province’s pot stores.

Cormier says that the store has not yet “tapped into” the island’s tourist trade, and its clientele is mainly locals.

“We’re a very small store,” Cormier said. “We do very small revenues in relation to other stores. It doesn’t make sense to have other competitive retailers trying to come into the space, it just ends up with two businesses failing.”

Listen to the podcast clip below to hear Glenn Cormier speak about the intention behind designing Happy Isle Cannabis Company:

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