Public has mixed reactions to 7 Vernon cannabis store applications

Products on display at Green Canoe Cannabis in Salmon Arm. Seven businesses are hoping Vernon city council approves of their proposals for cannabis stores in the city. Megan Turcato / Global News

Update: All seven cannabis shop applications received support from city council on Monday and will receive further consideration from the province.

Vernon could move one step closer to having its first provincially licensed marijuana shops on Monday when the applications for stores will be discussed by Vernon city council.

All the applicants are looking for the support of city council, which is a necessary step in the process of getting a provincial licence.

City staff are recommending that council give its blessing to all seven applications, even though many proposed locations have received mixed reviews from neighbours and other stakeholders.

114-5601 Anderson Way

This application is looking to open a licensed cannabis store on the same site where the Hemp and Wellness marijuana dispensary operated between March 2016 and legalization day in October 2018.

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A city staff report notes that the business has followed the rules, has not sold cannabis since legalization and has not caused any bylaw issues.

The property manager of the complex where the store would rent a unit wrote to support the application.

H&R Building Management said in a email to the city that the business owner “went above and beyond to ensure the premises was updated to include the latest cannabis retail requirements, including advanced HVAC systems, window frosts, (a) high-level security system and would operate in the safest and cleanest way for his customers, clients and the surrounding tenants.”

Another business in the same complex told city council it hasn’t had any issue in relation to the business or its clients.

City staff is recommending that council support the application.

106-4412 27 St.

City staff is recommending that council support the application for a cannabis store in a commercial building on 27 Street that is roughly 400 metres from W.L. Seaton Secondary School and 300 metres from Harwood Elementary School.

The owner of a physiotherapy business in the same building has raised concerns that young people who visit the clinic will have to pass by the cannabis store and that customers might be exposed to a “noxious odour” from the shop.

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Other than police noting their “interests are unaffected” by the application, no other feedback was submitted to city hall about this proposal.

3004 31 St.

City staff is recommending that council give its blessing for a cannabis store at the location of a former downtown dispensary.

However, if it goes through, the store will be under new management. The proposal is not from the same owners who operated MMJ Total Health Care on the site in the past.

The city received several letters opposing the idea of a cannabis shop at this location. There was concern expressed that a pot shop would hurt nearby professional businesses as well as a concern that too many pot shops have operated in the downtown core in the past.

“We are striving for a better, cleaner downtown core by promoting good, reputable (businesses) that serve and bring a positive impact into our community,” wrote Alex Wambold in an email to the city.

“Having a cannabis shop will create the exact opposite.”

While a nearby orthodontic clinic raised concerns that having a shop in the area would translate into people smoking cannabis around the business and its many young patients.

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A numbered company wrote to city hall to support the idea of a cannabis store at this location, which it argued is accessible and not close to major daycare centres or schools.

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It said the business would be locally owned and operated and is willing to “work with neighbouring businesses…adjusting policies to minimize disruption to neighbouring properties.”

In its support letter, the business also argues the “disruption on neighbouring property owners is limited as the location was already being used for the same use under [a] different regime over the preceding years.”

The letter from Lakshmi Pavani Balusu on behalf of the numbered company said the store would have a strict ID check policy, display No Minors signs and have security equipment, including cameras, secure storage and a safety alarm system.

3301 30 Ave.

City staff are also recommending that council give its blessing to a second downtown cannabis store, this one in the old Liquidation World building.

Renovations are ongoing at the site of the former big-box store that will subdivide the building into six new spaces.

This proposal calls for one of those units to be occupied by the cannabis store.

Like many of the other applications, this proposed cannabis shop received a mix of public feedback.

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One business said it would only support the location if it were the sole cannabis shop allowed on the city’s main street, while the Vernon Credit Bureau, which operates in the area, opposed the proposal.

“We have a growing issue with recreational drug use in the downtown core and we do not feel this would aid in the correction of this matter,” wrote Tania Bateman, the credit bureau’s manager, in a letter to the city.

Others suggested that downtown cannabis shops should be spread out.

Meanwhile, three other businesses signed form letters indicating they are fine with a Hive Cannabis Company location at this address.

102-2500 53 Ave.

City staff are also recommending that council support a proposed cannabis store in a commercial building in the city’s north end.

The location is around 85 metres from the House of Dwarfs daycare, a proximity some don’t think is appropriate.

Many critics of the proposed location raised concerns about parking, and some felt the marijuana shop wasn’t the right fit for the building, which includes a store, a fitness studio and a dentist’s office.

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“This is a professional building, and this business will, unfortunately, attract a less-than-desirable clientele,” wrote N. and B. Bond from Vasilkos Holdings in a letter to the city.

The dentist wrote and said his only concern was about parking.

The city also received a 68-signature petition opposing the proposed location.

However, the business received a lengthy letter of support from its potential landlords, who said they don’t believe the store will impact other nearby businesses or bring down property values.

“I get some of the concern, I really do. A lot of people have a hard time with change, and even more so if we don’t agree with it,” wrote Rodger and Sherry Lambert in their letter to the city.

“But some of it isn’t too different than when alcohol was in prohibition, and when it got legalized, there were a lot of upset and angry people. That changed over time and so will this.”

The couple proposing to open the business also wrote a letter to city hall noting their five parking spots would be well signed to prevent parking problems.

“Currently in the area there are bars, restaurants, a liquor store and a distillery closer to some of these businesses then my store would be,” Sarah Ballantyne, who is hoping to open the shop with her partner, wrote in an email to Global News.

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“We believe everyone is entitled to access cannabis in their neighbourhood and we look forward to serving the community.”

Ballantyne noted she had contacted the daycare directly and that it didn’t submit any comments, negative or otherwise to city council.

4513 25 Ave.

Like all the other applications headed to council this week, city staff is recommending that council support the proposal for a shop on 25 Avenue.

The cannabis store would be located in a commercial building in the Okanagan Landing area near the Longhorn Pub and Papa John’s Pizza.

City staff estimates the site is just over a kilometre from Clarence Fulton Secondary School and around 720 metres from Ellison Elementary School.

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One critic of the proposal said she would be worried about break-ins if the store was located on her street, while another felt it would bring “unwanted clientele to the neighbourhood.”

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There was also concern about parking, with opponents saying the site would create further traffic problems in the area, which some believe is already “chaotic” and “congested,” and that it would decrease property values.

Several nearby businesses wrote to support the application and suggested it will have a positive impact on the area.

The store manager of Papa John’s Pizza argued it would help other businesses by increasing foot traffic and potentially bringing customers to the many food retailers and restaurants in the area.

“We believe that allowing legal cannabis retailer(s) to locate within our community sends a positive message and is welcoming of new industry as we work together to build a city of opportunity,” wrote Papa John’s Pizza manager Suryansh Vats in an email to the city.

2913 30 Ave.

City council will also be considering a proposal for a second main-street cannabis shop, the third proposed pot shop in the city’s downtown.

City staff is suggesting council endorse the plan to put a cannabis store at the former location of Cracked Pot Coffee, a coffee shop that recently closed.

According to city estimates, the site is roughly 100 metres from the library and 320 metres from St. James School.

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Some business and property owners in the area were critical of the proposal, suggesting it could increase crime in the area and there could be a smell from customers smoking outside.

“The stigma and issues of ‘downtown’ Vernon have already been a detrimental factor for customers coming into our location,” wrote Sara Vey in her letter to the city.

“This would be a further hindrance.”

However, a nearby insurance broker supported the idea of a cannabis store around the corner from their business and said: “We do not feel that this business would have any impact on our customer base.”

Provincial approval still needed

Before a marijuana storefront can legally operate in Vernon, it needs both a civic cannabis business licence and a provincial non-medical cannabis retail licence.

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Even with applicants moving through the civic process, it could still be some time before a legal marijuana storefront opens in Vernon.

At points prior to cannabis legalization, Vernon has had upwards of a dozen marijuana storefronts.

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However, many Vernon pot shops shut their doors around the time of legalization to play by the rules during the provincial licensing process.

There are currently 14 provincially licensed private cannabis stores in B.C., including one in Kamloops and one in the Canoe area of Salmon Arm.

None are yet licensed to operate in the Okanagan.

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