Typically, the words “cannabis” and “airport” aren’t words that go together. Mentioning the two words together at a dispensary to a budtender is usually a big no-no, pointing to unlawful behavior surrounding cannabis and travel, and many airports have been reluctant to embrace new cannabis policy, or even carry cannabis-centric merch.
On the other hand, Prince George’s Airport (YXS) in British Columbia, Canada is aiming to be the first airport terminal in the world to host a cannabis retail store.
The Prince George Airport Authority (PGAA) announced last week that it was welcoming a new business partner called Copilot, which is “pioneering cannabis for travel.” According to PGAA CEO Gordon Duke, the company approached PGAA in early 2020 with a proposal to open the first cannabis retail store in an airport terminal worldwide, at least according to their knowledge.
“We feel strongly that having Copilot here at YXS will enhance our services our other business partners provide to our passengers and the people of our region,” Duke said.
He added that the products and services that would be provided conform to all federal and provincial laws, and the potential store would operate in the same manner as other cannabis retail stores in Prince George.
To fully execute the plan, the company needs to obtain a business license from the City of Prince George. If that license is granted, the company plans to open a cannabis retail store at Prince George Airport later in 2022.
So far, Copilot has met every required step to operate at the airport, working with federal and provincial regulators throughout the license application process. The city must approve the business license as one of the final steps before Copilot can build and open the store.
Copilot Co-Founder Reed Horton expressed his excitement in approaching a new retail shop and introducing Copilot to the Prince George community. He was college classmates with fellow Co-Founder Owen Ritz, initially bonding over travel and a desire to make it a less stressful and more enjoyable experience.
“We saw an opportunity to bring a safe and simple cannabis retail experience to airports across Canada and so in 2020 we founded Copilot.We reached out to YXS later that year and have been working with the team ever since to bring our store to Prince George,” Horton said.
They also indicated that Prince George was the perfect location for the company’s first store, even though they could have potentially looked at airports in legal cannabis regions around the world. Horton said Prince George was the best option because of the size of the airport and the community culture.
“We felt the airport was large enough to have enough passenger traffic and enough flights to test out the different aspects of the business model but small enough where we would develop a community feel and it wouldn’t necessarily feel like our retail store was in a sea of other stores or that it was an overwhelming experience for other passengers given that is a very new concept,” he added.
The store would not be limited only to travelers, either, as it would be located before security. Horton compared the model to airport liquor stores and bars. However, Duke indicated that the airport would still remain a smoke-free environment, excluding designated smoking areas. He did indicate that they are looking into designating a separate cannabis smoking area for consumers in the future.
Copilot also presented the first and second reading of their application at the Prince George City Council meeting on Monday. A third and final reading and public hearing are still needed for the rezoning application. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, were less thrilled with the idea, citing issues in a staff report regarding the potential shop, according to a report from My Prince George Now.
RCMP said the store could lead to negative impacts to Canadian Air Transport Security Authority staff at the security screening to ensure property packing and weights for domestic flights. They also cited potential issues for connecting and international flights at land borders where cannabis is not legal.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will also need to review and approve the application prior to its final reading. Though, other regulatory bodies were more supportive of the venture.
“The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch has completed its assessment of the eligibility and suitability requirements of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act for the applicant, and has determined that the applicant is fit and proper for the purposes of the act,” said Director of Planning and Development Deanna Wasnick.
Ritz said, “If all goes as planned we are opening the first cannabis retail store in an airport right here in Prince George this summer.”