Penticton council comes to grips with restriction on pot shops

Customers walk out of British Columbia's first legal B.C. cannabis store with shopping bags of product in Kamloops, B.C. Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. The first retail outlet in Penticton will be delayed by another month following an amendment to the city's retail cannabis bylaw after a public hearing and council discussion last night, Dec. 18, 2018.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

PENTICTON - All municipalities have been contemplating policy and laws for legal cannabis sales, but Penticton took a fairly unique approach in trying to keep them out of prime retail areas, at least until a public hearing on the question last night. 

The city was trying to be cautious when it created its bylaw keeping cannabis sales from the first three blocks of Main Street and adjacent Front Street, in the heart of the downtown core.

City Planner Blake Laven said that area contained the city’s highest level of retail. He said the restrictions limiting visibility into the shops could result in a detraction from the desired feel to the street. Staff were also concerned with the high numbers of youth and youth-based activities on the streets in question.

Laven said at a previous meeting it would be easier to lift restrictions later if necessary, rather than to be faced with an issue that would require action after a store was given city permission to operate. 

There were a couple of dissenting voices on council throughout council discussions earlier this year, including last night, Dec. 18, when the issue was presented at a public meeting prior to council’s final approval.

Several members of the public expressed a desire to see retail cannabis opportunities in the heart of the city, including Daryl Clarke, representing the Chamber of Commerce, who said, “Why not?” noting Main Street already had pawnshops and a sex shop operating.

Others called the restriction “heavy-handed” and “hypocritical,” noting the city allowed an unrestricted number of breweries and wineries to operate in the downtown core.

Penticton City Couns. Julius Bloomfield and Campbell Watt, who had previously argued to drop the restriction for the downtown core, seized the opportunity following last night’s public meeting to urge council and staff to open up Main and Front Streets.

“We need to change our thinking. It’s a legal product now,” Bloomfield said, adding the city didn’t impose such restrictions on other businesses.

Coun. Watt said he believed the market place would dictate which retail outlets would survive, and countered staff’s view of an unsightly storefront by saying the city could control that aspect of the business.

Couns. Frank Regehr and Judy Sentes eventually echoed similar sentiments, Sentes stating council shouldn’t be making a decision based on “what ifs.”

With Coun. Jake Kimberley absent from the discussion and Mayor John Vassilaki recusing himself due to personal business interest on Main Street, Coun. Katie Robinson was the lone voice of dissension in the matter.

Council voted in favour of an amended bylaw that dropped the Main Street and Front Street restrictions. Unfortunately, the amendment makes a new public hearing necessary, which will delay the application process by a month.

Prior to last night’s decision, the city planned to begin reviewing applications on Jan. 1. That date has now been delayed until Feb. 1.

In spite of the delays over the Main and Front Street restriction, Laven said provincial statistics indicated the province had received 209 applications for cannabis retail shops in the province but had so far issued only three approvals.

"We aren't behind other communities in this," he assured council.


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