We had a lengthy Public Hearing last Council meeting with 8 different items, so I’m going to talk about it in sections. and try to work through it over the long weekend. I’ll start with the last two items of the evening:
Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 532 Sixth Street Bylaw 8111, 2019 and
8. Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 710 Twelfth Street Bylaw No. 8109, 2019
These are the first two applications for cannabis retail locations that have reached this last stage of City approvals; one on 6th Street in Uptown and one on 12th Street.
We have spent more than a year and a half in the process that got us here. This link points you to the reams of public documents and conversations we have had about how best to synch our local land use and business regulations with the federal and provincial regulations, made no less easy as we were waiting for the details from senior governments to trickle in as we were going along. I wrote a few relevant blog posts along the way, and even answered some questions on my blog page. You can go there and search “cannabis” to follow along and see where my mind was as we went through things.
We had our first open Council Workshop back on October 30, 2017, a full year before federal legalization. Staff led us through a pretty detailed discussion about the issues, and you really need to watch the video from the workshop to get a sense of the discussion. It was clear that Council had varying concerns and levels of comfort with the legalization regime, but staff did a pretty good job of working us towards consensus on a framework for local regulations, which they brought back to us for another open Council Workshop on January 29, 2018 where Council once again found several points to disagree on, yet worked our way towards some early principles to build draft Bylaws on.
We then hired a consultant to put together some presentation materials based on the framework, and put it out to two Public Open Houses and a meeting with the local business community. The feedback was generally favourable. We had an on-line survey that was advertised in the local paper, at City Hall, and through social media, and received more than 300 responses. We held a Council Town Hall, inviting people to come in and tell Council what they think we need to do, not do, or adjust.
This feedback was drafted into a set of Zoning and Business Bylaw amendments, which were put to a Public Hearing, with all the notice that entails. We had two people come and speak to that Public Hearing – one telling us we were moving too slow, and one telling us we were moving too fast. Such is the nature of Public Consultation.
At this point, applications started coming into the City for retail locations. They were reviewed by staff based on the framework established, and 5 locations were approved (again, at a public meeting) to go to final approval. We received quite a few delegations at this point, mostly from proponents who had not been selected in their first round. The two applicants in front of us at this Public Hearing were the first to clear all of the required provincial regulatory hurdles to get to this final Public Hearing Stage.
So, after all of that, I do not take at face value a delegate at the Public Hearing who claims that this process was rushed, secretive, and failed to include public input. It is ridiculous on the face of it.
There were some concerns raised about traffic on the 12th Street site. However, the location is an existing retail space, and I don’t see how a cannabis retail location will present greater traffic concerns than a book store, a pub, or a coffee shop.
There are some requirements we agreed upon as a Council that I frankly don’t understand. The requirement for opaque windows is not congruent with vibrant retail street design. This and the “buffer from schools” are requirements based on an outmoded and Puritan idea that we can protect children from (alleged) evil by keeping that evil out of their sight. There is an extended meme in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy about “Peril-sensitive sunglasses” that riffs off of this idea. If the idea of keeping dangerous things out of children’s sight aligned with the real risks to the life and health of children, we would quickly resolve that there are no automobiles within 500m of a school. But I digress.
In saying that, I don’t want to act dismissive of the concerns raised by parents at the meeting. It was clear they are genuinely concerned, even scared, about what the legalization of cannabis means to their children. I empathize with their fears, but I do not share their fears. The substance has always been available to youth who want it, and I think this legalization and regulation process is actually going to make it easier to have rational, fact-based conversations about the substance, its risks and responsible use. I agree it is not appropriate for children to be using cannabis at the age when I started smoking pot (full disclosure: I haven’t touched the stuff in years), but even in my I’d-still-like-to-think-it-wasn’t-that-long-ago youth, parents were less able to have rational conversations about cannabis than they were about alcohol. I suspect that is because alcohol was present in most houses in some for or other and was visible in advertising and on the street, where cannabis was counter-culture and represented (dangerous?) rebellion. I hope that these conversations will change through legalization, but recognize there will always be people unable to move past the prohibition-based status quo.
The nuisance issue with cannabis is a real one, and still one local governments across Canada are going to be challenged to address. I think the nuisance issues will never be as bad as those caused by alcohol (cannabis typically just doesn’t lead to the loud, violent rowdiness that is associated with closing time at many pubs) but they will be different. But in our land use decision-making, I think the nuisance will be more about consumption in inappropriate places (parks, bus stops) and less about where the purchase occurs.
The Uptown location received the most correspondence: 362 pieces, by far most were in favour, suggesting they already have a well established potential client base. We had about 10 people speak to this application, most opposed. It seemed to me that most were opposed to the entire idea of cannabis retail, and the opposition to this location was a sub-set of that. The 12th Street location received a single piece of correspondence (opposed), and about 10 people delegating, with the majority opposed based largely on traffic concerns and parking concerns. In the end, Council moved to approve the two locations.