Quesnel City Council defeated a proposed cannabis bylaw in its third reading on Tuesday evening (Nov. 20) following a public hearing which heard calls for the possibility of privately owned recreational cannabis stores.
Councillors Mitch Vik, Martin Runge and Ron Paull each spoke on behalf of also allowing private businesses the opportunity to apply to open a cannabis store — something which was only possible for a government-owned store in the bylaw.
The desire for the option of a private retail store stemmed from a concern that the city could spend a long, indefinite period of time waiting to open a provincial store, while a private store could open much sooner. Another fear highlighted in the meeting was that another nearby city could enable private stores (or open a government-owned store) before Quesnel, and therefore take potential business away from the city.
Several councillors also expressed concern with a stipulation in the bill stating any cannabis stores must be at least 1,000 metres apart, effectively meaning there could only be one store in the downtown and West Quesnel area.
Another concern pertained to the distance between a potential cannabis store and secondary and junior schools in the city. In the bylaw, the proposed distance was at least 50 metres from a secondary or junior school, something councillors were interested in increasing to 100 metres.
Mayor Bob Simpson and councillor Scott Elliott both spoke on behalf of the decision to limit cannabis stores in the city to those owned by the provincial government, as outlined in the now-defeated bylaw.
Mayor Simpson pointed out that the city is not currently aware of the ability of the government or municipality to monitor a private cannabis store, to ensure it remains safe and on the right side of the law, while Coun. Elliott also said he felt using a government store was the safer option.
The public hearing also heard calls for private businesses to have the ability to open a recreational cannabis store in Quesnel. Brad Kotzer of the Billy Barker Casino Hotel spoke at the hearing and submitted a written statement to council.
Kotzer says he has applied and been pre-approved to open a private cannabis retail store by the provincial government, and he is now hoping city council will allow the option of privately-owned stores. Kotzer says he would like to open the new store in the location where the Billy Barker Beer and Wine store used to be.
He spoke about his experience in the service industry, his financial ability to operate the business, and the new jobs he expected the store would create if he were approved by the city, among other things.
One other member of the public also spoke at the hearing, and was in favour of private stores.
An opposing viewpoint was submitted via email by Trustee Gloria Jackson on behalf of School District No. 28, which requested the first cannabis store in Quesnel be government run, stating “government-run stores will offer a competitive salary leading to minimal staff turnover, ensuring that standards and policies will be consistently followed.”
The school district also requested cannabis stores be located at least 100 metres from any Quesnel schools, consistent with the set distance from playgrounds and playfields in the bylaw, and that the store hours of operation be consistent with government-run liquor store hours.
The defeated bylaw originally made it to its third reading by the unanimous decision of the previous council, including councillor Paull, who also expressed interest in opening up cannabis retail in the city to private businesses in the Tuesday evening meeting.
With the defeat of the bylaw, city staff will now draft a new report to present to council on the retail of cannabis in Quesnel, taking into consideration the recommendations made by council in the meeting.
From there, a new bylaw can be drafted, and another public hearing may take place.
Mayor Simpson also asked that city staff include another option in their report on cannabis retail in the city, which would allow the city to approve or disapprove of applications on a spot-zone or case-by-case basis. “This option … is that you can actually not have a bylaw in place enabling [recreational cannabis stores] anywhere, and just do it on a spot-zone basis. You do it [approve the application or not] on the merits of the application.”
He also mentioned pre-zoning, which is when the council predetermines specific areas a cannabis store could be located, and not zoning at all, as options to also include in the staff report.
Mayor Simpson says the public response to the new laws surrounding cannabis hasn’t been huge. “We’ve only written one ticket for public consumption, so we haven’t had this massive turnaround where people are smoking weed everywhere within the community.
“It does seem to be a moderated response from the consumption side, and then … we don’t have our phones ringing off the hook from people who want access to retail cannabis either, so it really remains to be seen what the demand is [in Quesnel].”
In just over a month since cannabis was legalized across the country on Oct. 17, there has been only one ticket issued for public consumption of cannabis by city bylaw officers.
In that time, there have also only been three traffic violations issued by the Quesnel RCMP, says Cpl. Serge Bruno. He says they have not seen an influx of violations since legalization.