Council rejects proposed cannabis store downtown

A proposal for a cannabis shop on George Street ran into a roadblock at city council on Monday.

In a rare four-four tie vote, city council defeated a temporary use permit for a recreational cannabis store proposed by Epik Products Inc. at 356 George St. The city had received 20 letters from local businesses and the public opposing the proposed store, as well as 13 letters of support from nearby businesses.

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In his report to council, city general manager of planning and development Ian Wells recommended council reject the application because of proximity to social service providers and another retail cannabis store.

"Overall, we're concerned about the proliferation of retail cannabis stores in the downtown," Wells said.

Councillors Garth Frizzell, Terri McConnachie, Kyle Sampson and Brian Skakun supported the proposal, while Mayor Lyn Hall and councillors Cori Ramsay, Frank Everitt and Susan Scott opposed development of another cannabis store downtown. Tied votes are considered to be defeated under the rules of order governing municipal votes.

Coun. Murry Krause did not attend the meeting.

"These ones are tough," McConnachie said. "We're not going to solve all the (drug) abuse and issues downtown by just not approving a legal cannabis store."

Sampson said he was in support of the proposed temporary use permit because, unlike a permanent rezoning, it would allow council to reconsider the proposal in three years when the permit expired.

In a letter to city council, Epik Products Inc. CEO Dawn Lebel said the store aimed to offer a high-end experience to customers.

"Our store will carry high quality cannabis and a curated collection of paraphernalia and educational materials," Lebel wrote. "This will attract higher-end clientele and will not appeal to users of the lower priced street market. Our design plan and business model is set up to contribute to the future look and feel of the downtown."

Frizzell said ultimately it will be up to the market to determine if so many cannabis stores in one area can survive.

Ramsay said the closest parallel to cannabis stores is liquor stores, and the Liquor & Cannabis Regulation Branch wouldn't approve a license for a liquor store where there was already one within 60 metres and another 500 metres away. The provincial regulator doesn't apply similar rules to cannabis retailers, Wells explained.

"How can we add another one?" she said. "I have have concerns about it."

Hall said he was meeting with a group of downtown stakeholders on Tuesday, and already knew what they'd have to say about another cannabis retailer downtown.

"I have a concern about the number of cannabis outlets in the downtown," he said.

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