With five applications for retail cannabis stores already approved in Quesnel since February, city council voted this week to place a moratorium on new applications.
At its Sept. 3 meeting, council voted to change the City’s zoning bylaw to limit the number of applications and cap that number at five.
After receiving a fifth application for a cannabis retail store in mid-July, councillors asked City staff to bring back options for placing a moratorium on accepting new applications.
Since then, staff has consulted with the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) and reviewed land-use policy, explained Tanya Turner, the City’s director of development services.
Prior to officially accepting an application and proceeding through their review process, the LCRB requires that a local government confirms that they will accept an application for retail sales, and in their view, the City may deny or simply not respond to further applications, Turner told council.
However, land-use policy best practices state this should not be done through council but rather through amending the zoning bylaw, according to Turner.
“The reason is that persons from a due process position have a right to apply and be considered,” she said. “Limiting a land use must be done via zoning regulations and not policy. Zoning regulations may provide a number of total stores permitted in the City and, as such, are the regulatory tool which can be used to deny new application reviews from the LCRB. Council may wish to revisit this regulation at any time it chooses or if an individual applies to have it reconsidered.”
Mayor Bob Simpson pointed out that since they last discussed possibly limiting the number of retail sales businesses and asked staff to bring back more information at their Aug. 27 council meeting, a news report has come out that says in rural areas, the trend for cannabis consumption is online, while in urban markets, the trend is towards the “true free market,” which is illegal purchasing.
Simpson also noted that putting a cap on applications would free up City staff’s time.
“If we say we have our five and are not contemplating more applications, it would give our Development Services staff freedom to use their time on other things,” he said.
There are no new applications in progress at this time, and Turner told council at the Aug. 27 meeting that of the four private stores in process, three are in the process of renovation and construction, and only one has received approval in principle — and that one is not yet under construction or renovation. Approval in principle does not give the applicant final approval, as the LCRB still needs to inspect the store, explained Turner.
The four private applications already approved are for locations at Chew Road and Rita Road in South Quesnel, and St. Laurent Avenue and McLean Street in downtown Quesnel. The fifth application approved by council earlier this year is for a government store in the West Park Mall.
“If we go with five and all of a sudden there’s a huge boom in buying from stores, we will know that,” said Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg.
Coun. Ron Paull wanted to specify a time, such as after six months, when council could revisit that move, and Turner reassured him any zoning bylaw changes could be revisited at any time, and, in fact, someone could apply to change the bylaw.
“I understand the bylaw needs to be pretty succinct, but I do want to come back and revisit it,” said Paull.
Turner told council staff can track the number of requests that go into the LCRB, and council can go back and revisit this cap with new information.
In her report to council, Turner noted that the question of how many stores should operate in the city will eventually be determined by local demand for cannabis products, and it will likely take many years to be realized, as this will be influenced by a number of factors, such as the ability to obtain product through the mail, a strong black market, and the development of additional products such as edibles.
“Currently, without even one store operating but five stores in progress in Quesnel, there is likely to be adjustments in how this new industry settles into the community,” Turner told council. “The risk of not controlling the number includes having an oversupply of stores for the current local market prior to having any stores open.”