Vernon partially lifts cap on downtown cannabis shops

Vernon is changing its cap on downtown pot shops. Megan Turcato / Global News

A proposed pot shop in Vernon’s Fruit Union Plaza will be able to move forward in regulatory processes after Vernon City Council changed its cap on downtown cannabis shops.

Last April, council voted to cap the number of pot shops in the city’s two downtown business improvement areas at six, to prevent the area from being swamped with newly legal recreational cannabis stores.

However, on Monday, council unanimously agreed to shrink the area where the six-store cap applies after receiving an appeal from Calgary-based Cannabis Cowboy Inc.

READ MORE: Business pushes back against Vernon’s downtown cannabis store cap

The business application for regulatory approval was placed on hold by the city since the cap was put in place. But they, and the landlord at the strip-mall, argued the decision was unfair, since Cannabis Cowboy rented a space and started is application with the province months before the cap was announced.

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Cannabis Cowboy said it has already spent more than $217,000, including more than $173,000 in rent, on the business venture and might not have rented a location at the Fruit Union Plaza in 2018 “had [they] known that the cap was going to be assigned or had [their] application been denied earlier on in the process.”
Vernon’s cap on the number of downtown cannabis stores will only apply to the primary business improvement area, seen here in pink, not the secondary area, coloured yellow on this map. Downtown Vernon Association

Because of council’s Monday decision, the six-store cap will now only apply to the primary business improvement area, not the secondary one, where Cannabis Cowboy’s proposed store is located, allowing that shop to move ahead in the regulatory process.

READ MORE: Why it will likely get harder to buy cannabis in Vernon after legalization

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Council heard that there are two other proposed shops whose business ventures were put on hold because of the cap. The proposed stores fall within the capped area of downtown.

Councillor Kari Gares raised concerns changing the cap could be a slippery slope, but ultimately voted along with her council colleagues in favour of the change.

“I think we have to be careful here because if we allow one, we are going to have to allow all of those, we set ourselves up for a much bigger issue,” Gares said.

READ MORE: Cannabis could be linked to higher risk of heart attack in young adults, study finds

“I would be receptive to the idea of removing caps all together if we would amend our bylaws to put in a 500 m distance because really that’s what the cap is doing is making sure we don’t have saturation especially in our downtown core that is experiencing significant issues.”

There are already multiple civic approved shops within 500 metres of the proposed Cannabis Cowboy location and within 500 metres of each other.

However, councilor Dalvir Nahal suggested market forces may also work to prevent a large number of cannabis shops in Vernon’s downtown.

READ MORE: Vernon caps downtown cannabis shops at 6 for first year

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“Word on the street is most [cannabis] businesses are losing money. I would be surprised if all six or seven would be open in 18 months,” Nahal said.

Meanwhile, the city still has a Vernon-wide moratorium on new applications for pot shops in place.

READ MORE: Niverville to allow retail cannabis after plebiscite

B.C. requires shops to have both provincial and local approval to operate.

The proposed Cannabis Cowboy shop still has more regulatory hurdles to clear, including a civic public consultation process.

The location of Vernon cannabis shops that have received a provincial license to operate as of November 26, 2019. Some are not yet open. Province of British Columbia

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