City Cannabis Co.—two high end weed dispensaries—currently maintain a monopoly over Vancouver’s legal retail market. Following a $45 million acquisition of the company in early April, Wildflower Brands is expanding the chain, recently announcing the approval of a building permit and a letter of recommendation from the City of Vancouver for its third location (2317 Cambie Street).
If the location is green lit by the provincial government, this would mean Wildflower owns three of the city's four legal dispensaries.
Wildflower is a publicly-traded cannabis brand house based in Vancouver with additional footholds in California, Washington, and New York through various extraction and accessories companies.
Since the federal legalization of cannabis in October of last year, only three privately-owned pot shops have made it through the province's new licensing process. Evergreen Cannabis Society (2868 West 4th Avenue) was the first of the provincially-approved store to open in Vancouver. On its heels was the first of two City Cannabis locations—7291 Fraser Street, and then 610 Robson Street.
Where once the city’s retail landscape consisted of over 100 dispensaries serving both medical and adult-use consumers, the majority have either been fined out of operation or voluntarily shut down.
Before legalization, municipal and provincial governments had little federal guidance on the process by which to regulate their network of dispensaries. This meant some stores operated without any approval, while others had a patchwork of various business, development, or operational permits. Many were raided and ticketed over the last several years—some even ordered by the Supreme court to cease operations.
Since legalization, local authorities have increased crack downs on shops refusing to shut down and submit to the new application process.
A handful have chosen to stay open, despite warnings from the city, to serve a large consumer base of at-risk consumers that would otherwise be left to choose from the three high end legal retail outlets or the province’s online store.
For many of Vancouver’s vulnerable, the lack of a credit card or fixed address prevents them going online. And the current legal dispensaries only offer a limited selection of cannabis products at a premium price—many even suffering shortages due to widespread demand and shipping bottlenecks.
The pricing at the Vancouver's legal outlets is also cited as another a barrier to access. Statistics Canada pegged the average price of legal weed at around $9.70 per gram in 2018, nearly 50 percent more than the illicit market price of $6.51. City Cannabis markets itself as a “premium” dispensary, offering grams like Canaca’s White Widow for $15 on the gram. Licensed producer Canopy Growth and actor Seth Rogen's cannabis, Houseplant Sativa, is being sold in the same store for $66 per eighth (3.5 grams), a large markup from the $40 price tag on the provincial website.
Unlike the existing legal stores, illicit shops also offer discount product, medical assistance, and support through drug substitution programs to the city’s street entrenched population. Many of these programs have been systematically eradicated in the wake of new laws.
Vancouver’s three legal locations are only permitted to sell a limited selection of cannabis products—dried flower, seeds, and infused tinctures—and are not allowed to offer consumption guidance or promote the plant's therapuetic benefits. This means medical patients in need of dosing assistance, higher cannabinoid concentration available in extracts, or alternative consumption methods (like edibles or topical balms) are also opting to source their products from illicit sources.
Currently, the provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) is processing approximately 140 applications for hopeful stores. A spokesperson says the system works on a "first come, first served" basis. Once cleared through the provincial regulators, applications are passed along to local municipalities or Indigenous bands for final approval.
Wildflower is currently the only company with multiple licences in the province of B.C. and said in a recent release that the Cambie location is "on track" to open sometime this summer.