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Cannabis is legal in B.C., but you won’t find any pot shops in this city — yet | CBC News


THC Canada was one of the first licensed cannabis retail stores in Vancouver. Yet, president and founder Spensir Sangara says a large number of his patrons actually come from Surrey, B.C.

It’s one of the reasons Sangara hopes to eventually open a storefront in Surrey, a city about 26 kilometres southeast of Vancouver. 

“I think Surrey is definitely one of the most underserved communities in Canada for cannabis,” said Sangara.

The sale and consumption of recreational cannabis has been legal in Canada for almost five years. Across B.C., licensed cannabis shops have sprouted, but Surrey — the province’s fastest-growing city — remains an outlier.

And some cannabis retail advocates warn that the lack of access is driving consumers elsewhere. 

Keep business in Surrey: Board of Trade

Jasroop Gosal, policy and research manager at the Surrey Board of Trade, sees cannabis as a potential economic driver for the city.

The large city is an untapped market, and Gosal says there’s demand both from residents to purchase cannabis products and from retailers who want to establish new businesses.

But the city lacks the bylaws and infrastructure to approve new stores, and without legal, licensed cannabis available to buy in Surrey, Gosel says consumers are looking elsewhere.

“It is propping up the black and grey markets,” said Gosal.

“But in addition to that, consumers of cannabis in Surrey will be going to other jurisdictions where there is legal cannabis.”

The province says a study from 2021 found that consumers in the Fraser South Health Service Delivery Area, which includes Surrey, were less likely to buy cannabis from legal sources compared to consumers in other regions of B.C.

The storefront of THC Canada which sells licensed recreational marijuana products.
THC Canada was one of the first licensed cannabis retailers in Vancouver. Now, owner Spensir Sangara wants to open a shop in Surrey. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Both Gosal and Sangara see clearing the red tape for licensed retailers in Surrey as a way to stamp out access to the black market.

“Once we get some stores [in Surrey], people will have more variety, they will have safe access to cannabis, and they’ll be able to not have to call dealers,” said Sangara.

And Gosal says the revenue generated from the sale of cannabis can be funnelled back into the province and the city of Surrey instead of flowing into the illicit market or other jurisdictions.

“That will help all residents in terms of better infrastructure and better social supports that everyone can take advantage of,” he said.

Why doesn’t Surrey have licensed storefronts?

For years, the idea of allowing cannabis retailers in Surrey wasn’t even up for discussion. Former mayor Doug McCallum was firmly opposed to retailers setting up shop.

But under the current administration, there’s been some movement on the file.

Earlier this week, the city council voted on a motion that would see specific cannabis retail stores open in city-owned spaces, with the city serving as the landlord.

A large projection screen with the words 'City of Surrey, the future lives here' is pictured during a meeting in council chambers at Surrey City Hall in 2019.
Surrey city council recently referred a motion on the future of cannabis retail within its borders back to city staff. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The motion — in its original form — failed and was referred back to staff, but it signifies that, for the first time since legalization, the city is serious about developing the framework for cannabis outlets to exist within its boundaries.

Still, some are frustrated it’s taken this long.

“We should have been in the business long ago. It’s a legal substance, and we have a free market here in Canada. Surrey should have stores,” says Coun. Linda Annis.

This week’s motion failed by a vote of 8-to-1. Annis voted against it.

“The city’s business is to regulate the industry to make sure they follow the rules we set for them. But we’re not in the business to actually be landlords to cannabis stores,” she said.

Now, city staff have been directed to return to the drawing board and have been encouraged by council to consult with the private retail sector.


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