Is Kelowna ready for a ‘toking district’?

Council debates potential rules for cannabis sales/production

Kelowna councillors have differing opinions about creating zones within the city that will exclude the retail sale of marijuana.

In a report discussed Monday by city council, planning staff raised the idea of not allowing marijuana retail outlets on Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna and South Pandosy Street the Mission commercial district.

“The idea is that the city has made a considerable investment to upgrade those areas and it might not be a preferred location as a result for marijuana retail outlets,” said city planner Ryan Smith.

Smith suggested side streets that intersect with Bernard and South Pandosy might be considered more appropriate for pot shops.

Coun. Charlie Hodge questioned that thinking.

“I feel that is sending the wrong message. It is not just potheads who are interested in this. There are people—seniors, people with medical disabilities—for which this is of high interest to them from a health perspective, so we have to keep in mind that access to that service is an important consideration,” Hodge said.

“I don’t want to see this ghettoized or see these shops stuck in corners where we don’t have to see them. Whatever recommendations we come forward with need to set a positive tone about how we grow up as a community and move forward.

“I think any kind of exclusion zone in this case would be overkill. We already have zoning rules in place that can address public issues of concern.”

The report was the basis for the planning department to update on the approval process for marijuana production on agricultural land and retail shop sales once the sale of cannabis is formerly legalized this summer.

Related: City hall ponders exclusion for pot shops

Some of the suggestions offered in the report include minimum distances between cannabis retailers and between stores and public facilities such as schools, major parks and community centres.

Smith said the planning department is engaged, with council’s support, in an extensive review process with various stakeholders to provide city hall with a final list of recommendations on where and how pot can be grown and sold in Kelowna.

Coun. Luke Stack voiced his support for the exclusion zoning idea, saying that other commercial areas such as Highway 33 and Highway 97 might also be worthy of consideration.

“I think the question is we can certainly take the Bernard and South Pandosy example and look at other village centres in Kelowna where this might makes sense, or does the existing zoning already in place already give us enough control already?

“But whatever we ultimately decide, it will be very hard to go back. Going forward is much easier in developing policy, rather than trying to change something already in place.”

Stack said clustering craft breweries together has proven to be popular both to the business owners and the public.

“I’m not advocating here to create a toking district, or I’m not sure what you would call it, but I think we have to be open-minded about this.”

Coun. Tracy Gray questioned the significance of whether a store is located on Bernard as opposed to on an intersecting road such as Water Street.

“I think where we can make a difference is to have all of those other distances that are in here away from schools and parks, and to have distances between themselves and between liquor stores. That will in fact, inevitably draw circles around areas where they won’t fit them without actually having to do an exclusion zone.”

Coun. Ryan Donn wondered about the ability of the city or province to place a cap on the number of marijuana retail outlets.

Smith said there is no such process at the provincial level, and the city planners expect to be hit with well over 100 business license applications when the pot shop and agricultural production rules are finalized by all three levels of government.

Related: Regulating pot sales

“There are different streams on the retail side, between the recreational and medical business interests, but we get about three or four emails a day with inquiries from across Canada,” Smith said.

He expects the city to be hit with a wave of applicants when business licenses become available, but that is likely to ween down considerably in subsequent years.

Mayor Colin Basran noted while there may be a huge number of pot shop applicants, they won’t all survive in the free market.

“You want to be positive thinking from a business perspective that entrepreneurs starting up new businesses will be successful, but if the market is flooded, they won’t all survive,” he said.

Smith also noted that whatever final zoning rules are applied to pot shops will potentially eliminate a high percentage of those business proposals at the rezoning stage.

Coun. Tracy Gray added the province has an unfair advantage on private sector competitors when the pot shop business sector becomes a legal entity in Canada.

Gray said the province is both a regulator of the industry and competes with the private sector.

“They will have three streams of revenue—operate retail outlets, control the distribution of the product just like with liquor and collect taxes from it,” she said, saying the question remains as to how much of that taxation revenue will flow to municipalities to deal with added bylaw enforcement and business license approval costs downloaded on civic staff.

“I have not heard anything specific to those concerns,” Smith responded to Gray. “For us, the costs of enforcement will be accounted for in rezoning and business license fees that reflect staff times costs regardless of what the province might do.”

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