Public input to be received Feb. 27 for retail cannabis store

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, February 5 2020

Members of the public will have their chance on February 27 to voice their opinion on a cannabis retail store opening in the Gabriola Professional Centre.

The Gabriola Local Trust Committee (LTC) has been asked to consider a referral from the provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) for an application by Gabriola Cannabis Limited for a Cannabis Retail Store (CRS) licence to operate a non-medical cannabis retail store in Unit 11 at the Gabriola Professional Centre located at 590 North Road, Gabriola.

February 27 will likely be the only opportunity for public feedback on the application before a decision is made by the LTC to make a recommendation to the LCRB.

Islanders Shawn Goodall and Lynn Reeves of Gabriola Cannabis were present at the Jan. 23 LTC meeting to speak on behalf of their proposed store.

The Gabriola Land Use Bylaw (LUB) does not define retail sales as a term, or subsequently separate cannabis retail sales as distinct from other types. Given this, Trust staff have said the proposed location is considered suitable in terms of zoning compliance - since cannabis retail sales can be considered commensurate with retail sales overall. 

One of the possible options for the LTC is to hold a community meeting for members of the public to voice their opinions on the proposal.

This is not considered to be a Community Information Meeting as typically precedes a public hearing for rezoning applications - it would simply be a scheduled time for members of the public to speak their piece.

Trustee Scott Colbourne asked if such a meeting were held as part of the Feb. 27 LTC meeting, would that be the end of the process for the LTC.

Staff said that is up to the LTC. Whatever happens on Feb. 27, it is up to the LTC when it would send a response to the LCRB.

Staff said while the process for a cannabis store is similar to the process for opening a liquor store, there is one key difference.

If the LTC recommends support for a cannabis store, the application will still be subject to further licencing requirements by the LCRB, particularly a “fit and proper” assessment. 

If the LTC recommends against the application or provides no comment at all, the application would no longer be considered by the LCRB as is the stated provincial process.

In the case of a liquor store, even if the LTC were to recommend against opening a liquor store, the province holds the ultimate decision - and could still approve a retail liquor license.

If a local government doesn’t want a cannabis store, the province will say no.

Heather Kauer, Regional Planning Manager for the Islands Trust Northern Team, said that ultimately this is a business owner asking for something for their business.

“We [staff] think this constitutes a retail use, and retail use is permitted.”

She said even if they get the recommendation from LTC to open the store, there will be money spent to do the fit and proper assessment with the province. It could be three to five months for Gabriola Cannabis to open after the LTC gives its approval. Both the LTC members and the spokespersons pointed out that the dispensary at Twin Beaches had been closed down the day before the LTC meeting - which means there is no local retail location for Gabriolans to shop at.

Goodall said, “Anything you can do to expedite this would be appreciated.”

LTC Chair Dan Rogers said the plan, currently, would be to have a public meeting on Feb. 27.

Rogers said the logistics for that meeting were hard to anticipate, given that neither staff nor Trustees know what kind of public interest there is in the application.

Rogers said “it could be a 15 minute meeting, or it could be hours. Do we have concerns with it being built into an LTC meeting? There could be a lot of people who want to have a lot of say into this.”

He added that with other large applications - including the BC Ferries Gabriola Terminal Redevelopment - coming forward, the February LTC could be a busy one.

Staff said regardless of what else is on the agenda, the public meeting for Gabriola Cannabis could be held at the end of the LTC meeting, and the LTC could then make a decision on whether the Trustees have enough information to make a resolution. Trustee Scott Colbourne asked if there was any reason to have a discussion around cannabis production at the same time as the Gabriola Cannabis referral. “If we have people coming out who are interested in this topic, we can get two birds stoned at once.”

Trustee Kees Langereis said the issues are different.

“I think they should be separate, we are not trying to bring them together.”

Goodall pointed out that production and processing is a federal jurisdiction, while retail licensing is provincially regulated.

Trustees made the decision to not include discussion on pending bylaws around cannabis production, within the discussion around Gabriola Cannabis.

Chair Rogers said “they are [both] cannabis, but they are different.”

Given the Trustees do not want to conflate the two discussions, the decision was made to delay discussion on cannabis production bylaws to a later LTC meeting.

Depending on time at the Feb. 27 meeting, Trustees may delay making a final decision on the Gabriola Cannabis referral, but could potentially pass a resolution at that meeting. The full agenda for the Feb. 27 meeting will be posted to the Islands Trust website on February 21, as well as at the Islands Trust Northern Office on North Road.