Critics concerned about number of cannabis shops in downtown Vernon, as city considers support for two more

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WATCH: UBC Okanagan researchers are ready for their marijuana breathalyzer to be road tested. Jules Knox reports. – Feb 6, 2020

How many cannabis shops are too many in downtown Vernon?

It’s a perennial question that city council in Vernon, B.C. will grapple with again on Monday, as it decides whether to give its blessing to two more private cannabis stores proposed for 30 Ave.

Read more: Vernon caps downtown cannabis shops at 6 for first year

City staff is recommending council support both applications.

One application would see Liht Organics open a cannabis shop in the basement of a commercial building in the 3300 block of 30 Ave.

The location is less than 50 meters from Hive Cannabis, which is already operating down the street, and which opposes the proposed competitor.

“I think that there are already more than enough cannabis retail outlets in Vernon,” Neil Rockerbie of Hive Cannabis said in an email to the city.

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“Although competition is healthy, at this scale the viability of the existing retail outlets is already stretched.”

Read more: Vernon partially lifts cap on downtown cannabis shops

Five others also wrote to city hall to express some degree of concern.

“I do not oppose small businesses in the area, as I also support community growth. That being said [the number of] cannabis stores per capita in the Vernon area, specifically in the downtown core is extremely high,” wrote Taylor Atkinson.

“If this is the only option for the landlord then I support their need to create income. However, there should be another tenant who could contribute to the community in a more productive way.”

The executive director of the nearby Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy was one of those who voiced concern about the proposal.

In an email to council Roxanne Petruk argued for more “family-friendly retailers” downtown.

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“Multiple cannabis retailers in the downtown gives the sense of a “Drug Alley” in downtown and attracts loitering of persons in the drug culture, as opposed to families and tourism,” Petruk wrote.

However, part-ower of Liht Organics Tylor Herold argues “free enterprise should dictate the economy” and it would be unfair not to let his business compete after the shop invested so much in renovations.

Herold said the business could have been one of the first to open, but mistakenly believed their space needed to be completely compliant with regulations and turn-key before the business applied for licencing.

That renovation work was completed, but the delay meant the store ended up getting put on hold when the city capped the number of downtown cannabis applications that could move forward.

“Because we have invested so much and kept our space compliant hoping to become accepted, we are now looked at as just ‘another pot shop’ in a saturated area, which is certainly unfair,” Herold wrote in an email to Global News.

Read more: Business pushes back against Vernon’s downtown cannabis store cap

Herold said the ownership group is local, the downstairs store has a limited footprint, and those not who are underage and not eligible to purchase cannabis will not be allowed in the store.

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“The stigma surrounding cannabis has made significant progress in Canada, and the world, and we feel as though our business is not being treated on an equal playing field as other retail sectors,” Herold added.

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The second proposal is for a separate retail shop a couple of blocks down the street in the 3100 block of 30 Ave.

The site is the location of what the city describes as an “unauthorized cannabis dispensary” that was operating prior to legalization in 2018.

However, a city report on the proposal said the owner of the previous cannabis business is not behind the application for the new store.

The city received one note from a neighbouring business opposing the second proposed store, but the nearby retailer did not elaborate on why it does not want a cannabis retailer as a neighbour.

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Vernon has been wrestling with how to regulate cannabis shops for years.

Even prior to the legalization of recreational cannabis, in October 2018, the city had a very active black and grey-market retail cannabis industry.

Read more: Why it will likely get harder to buy cannabis in Vernon after legalization

However, around the time of legalization, most of the stores already operating shutdown pending licensing approval under the new regulations for selling legal cannabis.

With a fresh slate, the city decided to limit the number of cannabis stores in the Vernon’s downtown business improvement areas to six.

Read more: Marijuana is legal everywhere across Canada now

However, those six slots for downtown cannabis stores were quickly filled by other applicants.

The applications heading to council this week were received almost two years ago in May 2019, the city said, but have been held till there was space under the cap.

They are moving forward now because one of the six originally proposed shops isn’t going ahead, and another was deemed to no longer be in the capped area.

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Although there are other applications for downtown Vernon cannabis shops in the regulatory pipeline, only two have been issued business licences.

In total, the city said it has issued 13 business licences to cannabis shops city-wide.

This spring the city council is also expected to consider a bylaw change that would limit the number of cannabis stores that are within 500 m of each other.

Both the proposed shops are within 150 m of another licensed cannabis store.

Even if the stores receive support from city council on Monday to proceed in the regulatory process, they still require licences from the province and city before they open.

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