Province willing to pay high business licence fees for its own cannabis stores

The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch has confirmed it will pay application and business licensing fees to municipalities for cannabis retail shops that are many thousands of dollars more expensive than other business fees.

The province has paid the City of Kamloops for a $5,000 business licence and an application fee of $1,600 required to open a government-owned cannabis retail store.

By contrast, a liquor store business licence is $196.

“We aren’t saying we would pay any fee,”said branch spokeswoman Vivana Zanocco. “The fees charged by municipalities could be a factor in deciding where the branch will locate government stores.”

The branch will be the sole legal wholesale distributor of non-medical cannabis products in B.C. and plans to operate government-owned retail shops in addition to licensing privately-owned retail shops when recreational cannabis becomes legal under federal law on Oct. 17.

While the branch has not yet applied to the City of Vancouver to open a government-owned cannabis store, it may want to brace for sticker shock.

The City of Vancouver charges $30,000 for a non-medical cannabis retail business licence and up to $5,100 in development permit application fees.

But even that might not be enough to scare off the LDB.

“We wouldn’t rule out Vancouver because of its fees, because it is a big population centre,” Zanocco said.

Kamloops’ higher licence fee is in part because of the staff time dedicated to preparing for legalization, said business licence inspector Dave Jones.

“We want to recover some of those costs and document that for future conversations we will have with the province about revenue-sharing,” he said. “So, it’s important that government and private stores all go through the same process.”

Kamloops will be home to B.C.’s first government-run recreational cannabis store. Locations for other government-run cannabis retail stores have not been finalized.

The City of Victoria charges cannabis retailers $5,000 for a business licence, after they complete a rezoning process. At least seven stores are operating without a licence, while 22 shops are properly zoned and licensed, said spokesman Bill Eisenhauer.

“We were able to get out ahead of this so we have suitable locations available when the new legislation comes into effect,” he said. “What subset of those stores will get a provincial licence we don’t know.”

The City of New Westminster is considering a bylaw that would set the application fee for a cannabis retail business at $5,400, with an annual renewal fee of $2,698 and one-time processing fees for a rezoning application.

Many municipalities have not set their business licence fees, while they determine the cost of processing and administering the applications and licences.

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