Dispensary Owner Discusses Licensing Process

The City of Vancouver’s dispensary licensing process attracted 176 applications from potential and current operators, a number that was whittled down to 11 earlier this fall.

One of those applicants is Chris Nguyen, operator of several dispensaries across the city, including a Medicinal Express Society location on 1745 Nanaimo St that he’s run for almost three years, and a proposed location on 2768 Kingsway.

Nguyen said even though Medicinal Express has gotten closer to being licensed, he’s still not counting on any approval.

“Even if I move onto the next step it doesn’t mean anything,” said Nguyen. “The city, honestly, I don’t think they know what they’re doing – right now, everything is up in the air.”

Nguyen said he was told his required police report came late and, as a result, the city said they threw out his application.

“It’s not my fault that the police report took four weeks and the deadline you gave me was two to three weeks,” Nguyen said. “I already did what you told me to do, I went though the process and now you guys are saying you’re going to put my application on hold?”

Nguyen was told that due to other applications in his area, his dispensary now may not be approved for a license, and he plans to go to the city’s board of variance to appeal. Since he was moved to the next step in the process a month ago, Nguyen said he hasn’t heard anything from the city.

“I tried to call them back, they won’t talk to me. They’re giving me a hard time now,” said Nguyen. “They’re trying to make it so tight for everyone and so hard for everyone, when they don’t even know what they’re doing — you have to give everyone time here.”

Despite the city’s insistence that those dispensaries not approved will be shut down after six months, Nguyen didn’t seem worried.

“I don’t think anybody’s shutting down,” he said. “There are compassion clubs that have been open for 20 years, nobody’s doing anything about it. The police aren’t going to raid us.”

Nguyen said if the city does shut down unlicensed dispensaries, the remaining shops will be faced with overwhelming demand that he doesn’t think they’ll be able to meet.

“There’s going to be ridiculous lineups, I don’t really want that,” Nguyen said. “I want everyone to have their own shops. At the end of the day we’re all entrepreneurs, we’re all business owners.”

With the federal government in the early stages of legalizing cannabis, Nguyen said he expected the rules to change again for dispensaries in the future.

“Right now I think Vancouver is assuming how they think it’s going to go, they’re trying to create a model for the federal government to follow, but I’m pretty sure the federal government have their own model that they want to create themselves,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen compared the legal status of cannabis to a series of loose screws, the city’s business licences being one, the federal plan to legalize another.

“The city doesn’t want to tighten up yet, because all the other screws are still loose – they need to wait and tighten them all at the same time,” Nguyen said.

Recently, liquor groups have begun coming forward to lobby for the ability to sell cannabis products when they are legalized, recreationally. A “bizarre” strategy, according to Nguyen.

“They said ‘we have our own process in place, let us put weed into it and it’s done.’ That’s crazy, anyone can say that,” Nguyen said. “What’s the alcohol industry trying to do? I think even if they try, they’ll fail.”

Nguyen said he’s worried the government at the federal and provincial levels decide the easiest, and most financially beneficial, move will be to sell cannabis themselves through established liquor channels.

“The dispensary model is working right now, why mess with that?” He said. “They only see the money. They’re trying to steal our passion and our dream and we won’t let them have it.”