Oh, boy I’m late getting this report out. There is a lot going on right now in the rest of my life, and I lost my notes in an age-related software-user interface problem, so here I am on an exciting Friday Night writing a shorter-than usual Council Report. We had a Public Hearing way back on Monday, and there was only one item on the agenda:
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (416 East Columbia Street – Cannabis Retail Location) No. 8256, 2021
A couple of years ago, the retail sale of cannabis for recreational purposes was legalized in Canada. Like many other Cities, New West set up a process to filter through the many applications for new businesses that applied. It was uncharted territory for all of us, and the Province ultimately created the legislative framework the City needed to follow, but how we followed that framework was pretty much up to the local government. Which is why the roll-out of these stores is so spotty across the region.
In New West, we decided the best way to manage the potential Gold Rush type onslaught of applications (for the industry, for our residents, and for the work load of staff in City Hall) was to set up a pre-qualifying criteria and pre-approve one location in each major commercial district (which we modified by allowing a Government Store, which is on a different stream). Of those 5 initial “short listed” applicants, two are opened (Downtown and Q’Boro), one is all approved but have not yet got their doors opened (the West End), one had to withdraw and the “second place” applicant was permitted to take their spot (Uptown), and we now addressing Sapperton.
The pre-approved applicant in Sapperton apparently ran into some issues with getting their Provincial approvals. It may have been as simple as missing a deadline to file some paperwork, but the province has indicated a new application needed to be restarted, which means the City application process is suspended. So the City is giving the opportunity to the “second place” applicant, as they have apparently completed their Provincial Approvals.
We had a number of people correspond to us about this, the majority opposed. We also had several people come to the Public Hearing and speak in favour or opposed. Council moved, ultimately to approve the application (giving the Bylaw Third Reading in a split vote), but I do want to talk about some of the concerns I heard expressed through the Public Hearing.
Some people are not comfortable with cannabis being in their community, and have a fearful about a myriad of harms that normalizing cannabis will cause. I hear that. I am not convinced the worst fears are well founded, but there is a good reason why people carry these fears: the Government of Canada spent almost a century telling people that “Marijuana” was a deadly blight on our communities that would kill their children, or at least ruin their families. Canada fought a war against Cannabis for decades, and threw a lot of people in jail for buying, selling, or using it. It as a menace to be eradicated for the good of society. Then, one Wednesday in late 2018, they said: Just kidding! It’s fine now.
I do not blame the Government of Canada for making cannabis legal, for ending the prohibitionist approach to management or it. I blame them for not being honest in the decades before (indeed spending Billions of dollars being dishonest) and for not taking a more proactive educational approach during the years of transition to help people understand what has changed. Spreading fear for decades then saying “maybe not” is bad governance, sows distrust, and makes people uncertain. Oh, and while they are at it, they could maybe pardon those Canadians carrying criminal records because of that prohibition, but meh.
I also heard mixed messages from the Sapperton business community, where on one hand the message was that this was an acceptable business for Sapperton, but perhaps a location a block further north was better, but then I heard that open consumption of the products in the neighbourhood was the main concern, and I cannot quite figure why moving the location a block north would change that.
Finally, there were a few concerns that pointed back to the original criteria the City put together (and Council approved) a few years ago when we put the first Cannabis regulations together. For example, this site met the criteria from child-oriented locations and parks, and the location in no way precludes Council reviewing subsequent applications for Government-run cannabis stores, and Council has already decided to permit both public and private stores to operate in the City.
So the decision before us was whether to permit a location that met the criteria set out a little more than 2 years ago by Council, or to find a special reason to not permit this location. As I already mentioned, Council voted to support it.