The City of Port Alberni is moving forward with recommendations for cannabis retail stores, including doing away with any setback restrictions between stores.
Bylaw services manager Flynn Scott and interim city planner Joe Calenda brought their recommendations to a meeting of city council on Monday, Nov. 26, following a committee of the whole meeting where the public provided input and asked questions about cannabis retail operations. While their report does recommend a 300-metre setback from schools, they are not recommending the 1,000-metre setback from similar businesses that is required for medical marijuana dispensaries. Each application from the province will be considered by city council on a case-by-case basis.
Calenda and Scott both had a meeting with School District 70 staff last week to discuss the 300-metre setback from schools and establish an “informal operating protocol,” said Calenda. “We agreed that education is the best form of harm reduction, rather than overly restricting the location of cannabis stores,” he added, pointing out that the sale of cannabis is “rigorously controlled” and it is unlikely to be sold to minors under the new laws.
He also suggested referring cannabis retail applications to the Advisory Planning Committee, which has a representative from the school board on it.
”We can have a more thorough review of the application and if there is a conflict with a school…then perhaps we could recommend refusal,” he said.
School District 70 will also continue to review its bus stop locations on a case-by-case basis as store locations are approved.
Economic development manager Pat Deakin agreed that setbacks are not needed between cannabis retail stores, drawing a comparison to communities in British Columbia that have concentrated micro-breweries in particular zones.
“The marketplace will end up deciding how many of these retail stores are going to be in our community and where they’re going to be located,” he said. “People will decide what stores they’re going to support and why as we move forward.”
Councillor Helen Poon made the motion to endorse staff’s recommendations. “I believe that it’s really important for us as a council to support people who want to open legitimate businesses in our community,” she said. “The provincial government already imposes a lot of restrictions as to who gets to open these stores. I don’t think we should stand in the way.”
She added that it’s not up to council to decide whether the businesses will be successful, but up to the patrons.
Councillor Debbie Haggard mentioned she was concerned because of the number of liquor stores in town. “I don’t recall one ever closing because of lack of business,” she said. “I’m concerned the same thing will happen with cannabis stores. If we allow 20, all 20 may stay open. We’re a community that’s trying to attract young families, we’re trying to promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Scott pointed out that the province has ultimately given full power to local government if applications should be approved or rejected. “It’s fully in council’s power to give rationale as to why,” he said.
Mayor Sharie Minions said she agreed with staff’s recommendations. “I think that in some ways we actually limit ourselves if we put a distance requirement, because we move to a first-come, first-served model, rather than evaluating each opportunity,” she said. “I think the case-by-case evaluation is a really important detail for us here.”
Council agreed to endorse staff’s recommendations. A bylaw will be brought forward to a future meeting of council for first readings. A public hearing must take place before the bylaw is finally adopted.