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Proposed retail cannabis location divides Parksville council

Applicant directed to provide notice, staff will prepare bylaw amendment
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(File photo)

A new retail cannabis store is being considered in Parksville, but its proposed location has caused concerns for some members of city council.

The potential site near the Quality Foods store on the Alberni Highway was not popular because of its proximity to an elementary school.

A bylaw amendment is required because if approved the store will be within 200 metres of a seniors care facility. Council members noted the cannabis store will be only slightly more than 200 metres away from Springwood Elementary.

“Legally they’re not within a school perimeter or radius, but they’re on the direct connection of a safe walking to school program,” said Mayor Doug O’Brien during the July 17 regular council meeting. “To me it’s not providing the correct public input for all the participating areas around there.”

Public notice will be provided by a sign on the subject property at 389 Alberni Hwy, although the proponent may provide additional forms of notice on a voluntary basis.

The retail cannabis industry is highly regulated by the province, said Blaine Russell, the city’s director of planning and building, and council has discretion to advance or reject the business licence. He added a nearby liquor store was not required to do public notice.

“What is the danger we’re trying to avoid with this motion?” said Coun. Sean Wood. “When cannabis has been illegal for decades and unregulated for decades, and smoked everywhere and been able to purchase in lots of different spots. And now that it’s regulated, it’s a retail store.”

Wood continued that he had not received emails from residents concerned about retail cannabis stores or people smoking it close to schools.

Coun. Adam Fras said both alcohol and drug use have become normalized in the community and although cannabis is closer to the harmless end of the spectrum, children should not be exposed to it.

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“Alcohol use in our community has one of the most detrimental affects on it, and I see that when it comes to recreational marijuana use, that it’s kind of going down that same path,” he said.

A motion by Fras to turn down the application failed, with Wood, Coun. Mary Beil, Coun. Sylvia Martin and Coun. Joel Grenz opposed. Fras, O’Brien and Coun. Amit Gaur voted in favour.

Several councillors said they would like to hear from the public before making a decision.

When Parksville first considered retail cannabis stores in 2018, the city received close to 500 responses from residents, according to Keeva Kehler, chief administrative officer. The 200-metre rule was a standard by many other municipalities considering bylaws at that time.

Grenz said council should implement general policy, rather than on a case-by-case basis.

“That’s kind of what judges do, as opposed to what we do at the policy level here,” he said, and added the bylaw only regulates sale and not where the cannabis is consumed.

“The only one we actually do regulate in terms of substance consumption in Parksville is alcohol,” he said, pointing out that ticket is one of the city’s steepest bylaw fines.

After a lengthy discussion, council voted to advance the application and direct the proponent to provide notice, as well as have staff prepare a site-specific amendment to allow the store within 200 metres of the seniors care facility.

The bylaw amendment will come back to council at a future meeting, along with public feedback.