Two applications to set up retail cannabis stores in Cowichan Commons received different responses from North Cowichan’s council on June 5.
The discussion and decisions made on the issue left some councillors wondering about their own rules as to where pot shops can be established in the municipality.
An application to open a government-operated retail cannabis store in Cowichan Commons passed its first test when council gave the first reading to a bylaw amendment that would see a 2,000 sq. ft. pot shop, owned and operated by the province’s Liquor Distribution Branch, set up in the SmartCentres retail complex in Cowichan Commons.
But an application from Costa Canna, a partnership headed by Cowichan Tribes, to also open a retail marijuana store in the same shopping area, close to where Walmart is located, was denied.
A staff report recommended the application be rejected because, as well as other issues regarding council’s criteria of where retail marijuana outlets can be operated, the store would be located at the terminal of a major pedestrian trail system and it would be situated in a site where security would be a concern.
But Costa Canna president Phil Floucault said that when the company was told of staff’s recommendation, executive members met with the owner of the building and arranged to change the location to another storefront in the same building that is further away from the trailhead and mitigates the security concerns.
“We want to put our best foot forward to show council that we are listening to the concerns being raised,” Floucault said.
“This is a better solution and I hope it will be recognized. We are a local group with ties to the local economy, we’re majority owned by the Cowichan Tribes and we’re hoping to undertake local civic development initiatives.”
Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour also spoke to council.
“What’s important to me is the government-to-government relations that we all strive for and, while it’s been a hard road in that direction, we’re getting there,” he said.
“Going in this direction was a hard decision for [Cowichan Tribes] council because alcohol and drugs are ongoing issues on the reserve. The only reason we’re moving forward with this is the fact that health and wellness will play a big part in this business and we hope to make money to address those issues in our community.”
Council rejected the application, but suggested that Costa Canna resubmit it to council again after consulting with the province’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch of its proposed new location, as it is required to do.
As for the application from the Liquor Distribution Branch, the LDB is now required to arrange and conduct an information meeting to provide residents and property owners within a 60-metre radius of its proposed site with information about its application prior to council considering the second reading of the bylaw.
A summary of the feedback received at the meeting will be incorporated as part of the staff report to council.
LDB spokesman Kevin Satterfield told council the branch has a proven track record of public service and accountability in operating liquor stores across the province for many years and that will carry over to its cannabis stores.
The application for the LDB store was received by council in April, but as the criteria established by council in January to regulate pot shops states, among other criteria, that they must be a minimum of at least 300 metres from each other, council decided to wait until Costa Canna’s application was submitted and consider them both at the same time.
However, both applications are located within 600 metres of a school, a neighbourhood park and other areas frequented by children and youth, which is within council’s exclusion zones for retail pot shops.
Coun. Kate Marsh said she wondered if council should revisit its criteria now that council is discovering some of the difficulties the criteria presents.
“It’s becoming clear to me that there are a lot of factors to consider that I’m not qualified to deal with,” she said.