Cannabis may become legal in Canada Oct. 17, but that doesn’t mean it will be available for sale in Kelowna as soon as that.
That’s because the city plans to set a period of Oct. 1 to Nov. 30 for applications to open stores selling cannabis, with a nine-member committee—made up of select city and law enforcement officials—then evaluating the hundreds of applications the city is expecting to receive.
Under rules endorsed by council Monday, the plan is to have the committee weed out the applications that best meet the city’s requirements and objectives and then forward only those to council for consideration.
Areas the committee will look at will include the business plan, security, location, store layout and compliance with city setback requirements.
Where two or more applications for the the same location come up equal, the city plans to hold a lottery to determine the winner.
The city is taking the unusual steps towards to dealing with the applications because it says having the planning department deal with so many applications at one time in the traditional manner could “cripple” it.
“We expect not dozens of applications but potentially hundreds,” said community planning manager Ryan Smith.
On Monday he told council the city regularly deals with about 800 development applications per year. If it had to suddenly deal with 150 more at one time, it would pose a huge problem for the department.
He said there have already been hundreds of inquiries made to the city about opening stores selling legal cannabis in Kelowna.
On Monday, council endorsed a number of rules that will govern the location of cannabis retail outlets in the city including:
• Locating them at least 500 metres from each other
• Locating them at least 500 metres from middle schools and high schools
• Locating them at least 150 metres from select parks
• Banning them from opening on stretches of Leon and Lawrence Avenues downtown between Abbott and Bertram Streets
• Locating them only in commercial zones.
The rules would apply equally to private and government-operated stores.
The proposed rules will now go to a public hearing to give the community an opportunity to tell council what they think about them.
Smith said there are about 900 locations in the city where pot shops could open, but that number will decrease as ones are approved and separation rules start to kick in.
The issue of potential lotteries to determine who is allowed to open a store in a specified location caught council’s attention, with several councillors expressing concern and saying any such move would have to be very transparent.
“If it does go down to a draw, I think it has to be very, very public and make sure it is completely transparent,” said Coun. Luke Stack.
“What I’ve heard is there is a lot of interest in applications, and we have to make sure we are very transparent with the applicants so people are treated fairly.”
Two other councillors, Brad Sieben and Tracy Gray expressed concern with the matrix the city will use to determine who gets to open a store.
Sieben said he was concerned with the city being the “judge verses the evaluator” and Gray said while she could support sending the rules to a public hearing, she was uneasy about having the city decide which business was better than another.
But Mayor Colin Basran defended the city’s plan, noting some other cities are not allowing pot shops at all.
“I appreciate the approach we’re taking,” he said. “I think it strikes a good balance.”
He added the large amount of work the city is doing to prepare for the arrival of the legal cannabis in Kelowna shows the support the city is giving to the new industry.
Earlier in his presentation, Smith said the fees applicants will be charged will reflect the amount of time and money the city has spent preparing for the arrival of legal cannabis sales in Kelowna.
Basran said the issue of profit sharing to cover the city’s costs is one that has yet to be determined by the province.
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