Retail cannabis gets green light

Local applicant approved

A bylaw amendment clearing the way for a retail cannabis dispensary at 108 Main Street sailed through the public hearing and approval process at the Jan. 20 Lillooet District council meeting, in stark contrast to a similar attempt last August.

The main purpose of the amendment was to add retail cannabis sales to the industrial uses table specifically for the lot in question–which is zoned industrial–and remove the words “must be located in a Commercial Zone” from the zoning bylaw with regard to the use.

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The changes brought the property that was the subject of the application into compliance as a prospective site for such a business.

There had been no written submissions to the district office as of the printing of the agenda for the public meeting, but CAO Jeremy Denegar reported that three had been received the afternoon of the meeting, all of them in favour of the amendment.

There was no public input before the meeting, although the public gallery was unusually full and included several people who had spoken out against the last application.

The applicant, Randy McNary, did say a few words.

“I grew up in this town. I’ve been an entrepreneur for quite a while... we have an opportunity to do what we’re trying to do. Pot was legalized and it’s here to stay,” McNary said, adding there have been no major negative impacts of that. He said the products in his proposed dispensary would be for both recreational and medicinal use.

“This is a legal opportunity to provide a safe, regulated product in this community.”

It would also provide tax revenue for the district, and employment, he said–possibly four to six full-time and/or part-time positions.

McNary cited a few other benefits of the proposal, including adding business to the north end of town, keeping money in the local economy, and providing a service for residents.

“I think it’s a good opportunity; there’s an underground market here and there always has been for as long as I can remember. If we can get something controlled, I think it would be good.”

Next Mayor Peter Busse made the requisite three invitations for public input, with no takers.

That spelled the end of the public hearing, with council taking the matter up again as part of the regular agenda, this time for a vote–following an opportunity for discussion.

The only council member who spoke up was Coun. Laurie Hopfl, who voted against the previous application, planned to vote in favour of this one, and wanted to be clear about why.

“I was one who voted against that last time, I thought it was a bad location, it was in the centre of town and I felt that people couldn’t avoid it if they wanted to,” she said.

“But I feel that this location is so much better. I think that if you don’t want to see it, it’s out of the way enough that you don’t have to and if you do, it’s still attainable, so I think it’s a good, good location.”

Members of the public had some final comments on the issue during the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, including George Vanderwolf.

“I’ve asked the question many times, of many people: of what value is this to society? Now for anybody to call it recreation, I suggest they talk to psychiatrists and to doctors and see what this actually does to the brain of a person, especially young people,” Vanderwolf said.

“If they can still call it recreation after talking to a psychiatrist, then I think they need a dose of reality, thank you.”

Busse said council doesn’t have a role in determining whether or not recreational cannabis will be legal.

“All that we will control, from the zoning point of view, where it’s grown and where it’s sold.”

Harold Ostash talked about the benefits he’d experienced from using cannabis medicinally for a severe medical condition, compared with his experience with pharmaceuticals. He framed his comments as a rebuttal to what Vanderwolf had said.

“Fifteen and a half days in a coma and then five and a half months intensive care, one week shy of hospital care, I used to take a lot of different pills.”

He said that medication has been dramatically reduced since he started using medical cannabis, which he said has also been more effective in dealing with many of his symptoms than the previous prescription drugs.

Busse noted that Vanderwolf’s comments had been about recreational cannabis, but acknowledged both points of view were important.

“Obviously none of us have an appreciation of what his background is on that and nor do we with you except that you shared it with us and we respect that. The same goes for everyone’s concerns or opinions.”

Vera Busse had concerns about marijuana–which she generally has no objection to–displacing food crops on agricultural land.

The Mayor said those decisions are mostly up to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Karen Vanderwolf was worried about edibles.

“I realize that there are medical uses for marijuana but what I’m concerned about with the recreational part is, if they’re going to make jelly bears and candies, how do you keep these out of the hands of kids?” she wondered.

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