In the end, the city’s cannabis policy played a prime role in council’s decision to approve an application from the provincial government for a retail cannabis outlet at the SmartCentres site.
The application is the seventh council has received; five of the six previous private applications were approved. Four will be in the downtown – the maximum number permitted under the city’s cannabis policy – with the fifth in Canoe. The one application turned down did not meet the city’s policy guidelines regarding proximity to schools.
Salmon Arm council voted unanimously to approve the province’s application on Monday evening, Jan. 28, but not before considerable discussion, much of it centred on government competition with private enterprise.
In addition to Kerri Lore, director of corporate policy with the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, council heard from James Young, who described himself as a former local businessman who now mentors businesses in the downtown.
He expressed his opposition to the application, stating it is an uneven field with private owners having to put up time and resources for their businesses while the provincial government store does not fall under the same rules or licensing.
“In my view, it’s… a little bit of double dipping,” he said, referring to taxpayer financing.
Coun. Sylvia Lindgren asked Young if he sees this differently than government liquor stores, and he said, no, it’s the same.
Young also read a letter from successful cannabis store applicant Gord Erickson, who was sick and unable to attend.
Erickson wrote that the government competition would lead to the closure of some downtown retailers. He said while people might think government competition works with liquor, “The liquor system is broken. It’s still a wholesale monopoly, competing with taxpayers using the same taxpayer’s money.”
Other letters included: one from SmartCentres in favour of the application; Acuity Advisors LLP who wrote in opposition, stating many of their clients own businesses downtown. Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo wrote to say governments in B.C. shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to introduce unfair and unnecessary competition, while the Greenery Cannabis Boutique suggested council revisit its cannabis policy to restrict the number of stores outside the downtown core.
Coun. Chad Eliason noted the B.C. government is already selling cannabis online in Salmon Arm, which Young said is fine as it can promote safety and age restrictions – but he objects to the “bricks and mortar.”
Government rep Lore said the province is committed to following municipal rules. Asked by Mayor Alan Harrison if it investigates how many private applications are in place before going into a community, she said the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch is separate from the Liquor Distribution Branch, so unless a municipality discloses that information, the distribution branch doesn’t know. She said it would be “a conflict of interest” if the regulation branch informed the distribution branch. She said the province only goes into communities with over 10,000 residents.
Eliason recounted how he had lobbied hard years ago to keep the liquor store designation out of SmartCentres in order to protect downtown, yet a liquor store went up across the highway instead. (Liquor stores and financial institutions are excluded from the C-8 zoning at SmartCentres, but cannabis retail stores aren’t.) He noted that the yet-to-be-constructed building could potentially bring in $90,000 per year in property taxes.
Kevin Pearson, the city’s director of development services, confirmed the application, which the city received Nov. 27, adheres to the city’s cannabis policy in terms of location and zoning.
Coun. Kevin Flynn emphasized he wasn’t directing his comments personally at Lore, but said, “I think people who put their applications in before you people are put in a very unfair position. I’m of the belief if we were going to have private cannabis, it should have stayed private.”
Nevertheless, councillors noted they don’t have the power to stop a higher level of government, nor is the application in conflict with their relatively new cannabis policy, which was created from research and public consultation.
“From a policy and community point of view, I don’t see how we can turn this down,” Flynn said.
Couns. Lindgren, Louise Wallace Richmond and Debbie Cannon declared that, although they sympathize with private owners, they would follow the policy. Coun. Tim Lavery said the policy was given serious consideration and he thinks private ventures could have considered the possibility of government stores as a risk factor.
Wallace Richmond said she sees opportunities for innovation in the industry and recounted how the mayor of Kamloops recently talked about the benefits of the provincial cannabis store there, saying the city is becoming well-known for cannabis and given nicknames like Kamsterdam.