Drivers heading south on the Pat Bay are seeing a new sign this week, as an electronic billboard has begun carrying a blunt message.
“A euphoric shopping experience!,” exclaims one variation of the ad for “The Great Canadian Canna Mall,” a Victoria business billing itself as the country’s first marijuana mall.
Four pot-related businesses have now moved into the former Gazzola Tile store at the corner of Quadra and Balmoral streets, and partner Steve Omelus says three more will join them by the end of the month, with more space still available for lease.
“We are looking at taking over the whole building that will likely include a canna spa an infused restaurant [or] pizzeria,” he said.
The businesses already operating include two stores selling marijuana products; one carrying dried bud and edibles and the other specializing in the marijuana derivative known “shatter.” The mall began with a “marijuana lounge” called the Green Ceiling that charges customers an hourly rate to consume their own marijuana opened in the spring.
Omelus, who co-owns mall tenant Skunk and Panda Shatter Shack, makes no bones about the fact his and some of the other businesses in Canna Mall operate outside current laws.
The federal government has promised to legalize marijuana next year, but it’s still not clear what the legalized market will look like and what kind of businesses will be allowed.
Meanwhile, Victoria has seen a rapid boom in marijuana storefronts. Victoria city staff counted 38 at the end of July, with some of the so-called dispensaries operating on opposite sides of the street.
The city has been moving toward regulating the sector, with a public hearing on a proposed bylaw set for September 8th.
Among the rules under consideration, marijuana storefronts would have to be a minimum of 200 metres apart.
“The idea of creating a buffer zone is to make sure that one neighbourhood doesn’t become the marijuana downtown of the city,” said Coun. Jeremy Loveday.
Loveday is council liaison for the North Park neighbourhood, where Canna Mall is located and some neighbours say there are already more than enough canna-businesses.
“I just don’t like living in a place that’s surrounded by drugs like this,” said Caroline Mufford. “I don’t think it’s healthy for the neighbourhood or for kids.”
If the 200-metre rule is passed with the city’s regulations this fall, Loveday says having multiple marijuana businesses under one roof is unlikely to be considered compatible.
Omelus say Canna Mall’s likely approach would be to apply as a single business, and if the city doesn’t like it, and tries to regulate them out of operation the partners could spark a legal challenge.