The Costa Canna cannabis store in Duncan next to the BC Liquor Store has been ready to open for months.

“We were prepared to open April 1st,” said Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour.

But after meeting with the licensing board back in March, he was told he needed to fill out additional paperwork so he could be screened. Anyone opening a cannabis store has to pass a provincial security check before the municipalities can even consider their application.

“They said Chief Seymour if you fill out those forms and submit them you will have your licence within two and a half weeks,” said Seymour.

It’s now been eight weeks with no sign of a licence and Seymour thinks it’s because the province wants to open up their own store.

“They’ve applied for the same spot,” said Seymour.

To secure a location in North Cowichan both the province and Cowichan Tribes have applied to have a pot shop. But the District of North Cowichan has yet to decide who gets it and Seymour thinks that’s the reason his licence is being held up.

“When you look at it they can say we will hold off on Cowichan Tribes issuance of a license until North Cowichan gives us the okay to open up,” said Seymour.

That’s something the province denies saying in a statement,

“Competitive advantage for a retailer, public or private is not a factor when the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) considers license applications. Consideration of license applications takes into account a wide range of factors aimed at protecting public safety and ensuring organized crime is kept out of the legal market,” read the statement.

Seymour said he’s repeatedly asked what the hold up is and has been told criminal screening takes time, only he said he’s already been through it.

Cowichan Tribes already operates a casino, and Seymour said he went through provincial security vetting to get that gambling licence and sit on the gambling board.

“They’ve been screened before and they don’t have to do it again why are you making me do it again?” said Seymour.

He is frustrated. Seymour said it’s important to get the cannabis franchise business up and running because the revenue would be used to help tackle the housing crisis in his community.

“At least with that money, it gives us the ability to go out and borrow knowing we have a source of money to pay for a mortgage for a small apartment building or a subdivision. So that is where we want to go with this looking at the social issues on the reserve,” said Seymour.

After they finish the screening process for the second time Seymour said the province has assured him he won’t have to go through it again when opening up a  second location. But first, the District of North Cowichan has to pick them over the province for the location they both want.

Meanwhile, Seymour said they have been paying the lease since April for the store in Duncan and a venture that was supposed to provide economic prosperity for Cowichan Tribes is instead only losing them money.

Once a license is issued, he said the store in Duncan could be up and running in a week.

Luisa Alvarez