Historic Canadian Theater May Be Converted To High-End Dispensary

You may soon be able to buy marijuana at one of Canada’s most iconic buildings as Canadian cities evolve with legalization.
Historic Canadian Theater May Be Converted To High-End Dispensary
Wikimedia Commons

A major marijuana manufacturer has begun the permitting process that would turn one of Calgary’s most iconic theaters into one of the coolest dispensaries in Canada. Not only would the location be historic, but the dispensary would, reportedly, be high-end. Here’s how Calgary’s downtown is evolving with legalization.

The Palace Theatre Is One of Calgary’s Most Iconic Landmarks

Built in 1921 (during the height of classic Hollywood), the Palace Theatre hosted music, vaudeville performances, and showed a wide selection of movies. According to the Calgary Herald, William Aberhart, who was the Premier of Canada, first broadcasted on behalf of the conservative Social Credit Party from the theater.

The Palace Theatre featured its last movie, though, in 1990. And a few years later, it became a historic landmark. Since then, the building’s facade, the marble stairway, the ceilings, or any other of the theater distinctive features have been untouchable without provincial approval.

Next, the Palace became a late ’90s nightclub, renamed the Palace Nightclub. The mid-2000s brought hockey to the theater, which assumed its old name as a sports arena.

Today, it’s is a multi-purpose event space that shows movies, hosts talks, and concerts and can be rented out privately. With immaculately preserved details and a great sound system, the main space continues to be one of Calgary’s most iconic gathering places.

A Dispensary Could Be The Latest Use For This Historic Space

In an official statement released yesterday, Alberta-based Westleaf Cannabis officially announced their bid to take over part of the space. “Westleaf is currently evaluating a number of Alberta-based locations for our retail stores, including the Palace Theatre,” it reads.

On April 24th, Westleaf Cannabis submitted an application to open a dispensary in the Palace Theatre. They applied to open a “cannabis store,” which would allow them to sell both weed and weed paraphernalia.

“Cannabis cannot be consumed on the premises,” the application specifies. However, “[The permit] also allows for counseling on cannabis use.”

This doesn’t mean that the Palace Theatre will be closing and fully converting to a dispensary. So far, Westleaf plans on opening a dispensary in an unused portion of the theater. For the time being, it looks like the rest will remain an event space.

Would A Marijuana Business Diminish Its Historic Character?

Westleaf is conscious of the Palace Theatre’s historic significance. In their official statement, they explain, “As part of retail strategy, all locations will stay true to the roots of the community in which we operate while respecting the location’s history and heritage.”

The Calgary Heritage Authority seems to agree with their approach. Executive director Josh Traptow told High Times, “A heritage building being used for anything is great. The Palace Theatre is already a vibrant part of Calgary […] and the downtown. Heritage buildings have always gone through a cycle in terms of economic development and economic changes. This is just part of the cycle of the economy of the world.”

The Palace Theatre’s evolution from cinema to dancehall to hockey venue to a dispensary is all part of its natural evolution. Plus, talk of a dispensary has already garnered national attention and further interest in preservation.

Competition is Steep for Dispensary Licenses

The thought of a centrally located marijuana retailer in a historic building is getting a lot of buzz. But the licensing process is far from finished for Westleaf.

Alberta is one of a minority of provinces that permits private pot retail. The only facet the government will control is online sales and, of course, the registration process. Plus, Alberta has some of the highest weed smoking rates in Canada. This is due to the province’s large young adult population.

This translates to great business opportunities, but intense competition. According to CBS News, Alberta is only issuing 250 marijuana dispensary licenses in 2018. They must be 100 meters away from one another and school zones.

Additionally, cities and towns can set individualized, more strict rules for marijuana sales. For instance, Calgary itself could ban outdoor marijuana smoking and many places are allowing landlords to prohibit weed use.

What’s Next For the Palace Theatre Dispensary

Though Westleaf has completed the first step of the process, there’s no guarantee that they will get a permit. One of the things that could slow down or stop the development process would be if they wanted to renovate certain aspects of the space. “If it’s altering or changing any of the regulated heritage portions of the building, the province would have to approve those changes,” Traptow said. “For example, if they wanted to add another entrance, […] they’d have to get the province to sign off on those changes.”

When asked more specifically about the Palace Theatre’s dispensary, Druh Farrell, Calgary Ward 7 City Councillor responded, “Not sure about the Palace plans. We have so many cannabis applications I’m just stressing that we make sure they follow the rules.”

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