Council splits decisions on downtown pot shops

Two proposals to open privately-run cannabis retail stores in the city's downtown met decidedly different fates at a city council meeting on Monday night.

Council voted 7-1 to deny a proposal to open a store at 1289 Third Ave. - the old Plateau Clothing store - after learning it would be located across from a school that caters to vulnerable youth.

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Intersect Youth and Family Services at 1294 Third Ave is currently home to 32 students, ages 13-18 years old who, because of mental health challenges, are unable to attend mainstream school.

That they would look at a cannabis store everytime they walked outside was a point repeatedly driven home by a handful of Intersect representatives during a hearing on the matter.

"Our youth that access our school should be afforded the same precautionary measures and even higher diligence due to their existing mental health and substance use challenges; and barriers to access the mainstream school systems,"

Intersect executive director Shannon Croy said in a letter expressing opposition.

It was enough to convince most council members to vote against granting the proponent, Nasser Kamani, temporary use permit.

Having a cannabis store across the street from such a school is "really leading to temptation," Coun. Cori Ramsay said.

Coun. Terri McConnachie was the sole councillor to vote in favour. She argued that the target market is adults 19 years and up and that safeguards are in place to prevent sales to minors.

Backers of a proposal to open a store at 421 George St. were more successful as council members voted unanimously in favour of granting Grasshopper Retail Inc. a temporary use permit for the location.

The permit will last up to three years before Grasshopper will have to either apply for an extension or to rezone the property for the use on a permanent basis.

The intention is to give the city time to assess the impact of the store on the downtown. If there are problems, the city retains the power to pull the operation's business licence and shut it down, council was told.

Although 10 neighbouring business owners provided expressions of support, two expressed strong opposition to both applications.

Christina Watts, who operates an arts supplies store and provides arts classes to adults and children, predicted crime will rise and only draw more trouble to a troubled area.

Philomena Hughes, who runs a photography studio, raised similar concerns.

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