A proposed zoning change would make the difference in Jordan Stackhouse and Daniel Schneider opening the doors of Whitehorse’s next cannabis retail shop.
The would-be retailers of Community Cannabis, to be located inside the former Marble Slab ice cream shop, outlined their plans at Whitehorse city council’s July 18 meeting, emphasizing they would like the zoning change to move forward as soon as possible as they continue to pay the lease on a space they can not yet operate their business out of.
As the pair explained to council, before signing the lease for the retail space they researched the buffers required for a cannabis shop and believed their location met those requirements. It was only after signing the lease they were informed it was within 150 m of a school — the Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre on Fourth Avenue — based on the Yukon government’s method of measurement which runs from lot line to lot line, rather than the distance between individual establishments.
Stackhouse said it hadn’t been clear how the distance is measured by the territory in such cases.
Under the Yukon government’s Cannabis Control and Regulation Act, cannabis retail locations must be more than 150 m from secondary schools, though there is a provision allowing municipalities to alter in their community.
Stackhouse and Schneider are seeking a zoning change that would instead require their business to be 100 m from a school (with the Individual Learning Centre more than 100 m from the proposed store). It’s the same distance set out in the city bylaw for restricted retail locations to be from temporary shelters; services for youth at risk or those suffering from substance abuse; sites zoned as parks and recreation that include a play structure (this does not include Shipyards or Rotary parks, which have a waterfront zoning), and from properties used for restricted retail services.
As Stackhouse explained, the situation has left him and Schneider paying for space they can’t run their business out of, incurring about $8,000 a month in costs.
“So that’s a really tough pill to swallow,” he said.
In a report to council on the proposal, city planning and sustainability services manager Mélodie Simard also noted the plans and the ability of municipalities to alter the 150 m requirement. She said the city had not opted to change the territorial regulation when it was implemented, but it could be something considered in a future zoning bylaw rewrite along with the spot zoning for the Second Avenue property.
Simard also said city staff had met with Yukon Liquor Corporation (which oversees the territory’s regulations on cannabis) officials in June, who stated they had no strong objections to the change.
“They researched the reasoning of the 150 m school buffer in the act and undertook a jurisdictional review of other legislation with school buffers ranging from 100 to 300 m,” Simard stated in her report. “YLC could not find a rationale for the specific distance or evidence of greater harm occurring between 100 and 150 m. They advised the buffer is not a critical piece of youth protection in this instance as other requirements will remain (ID check, visual and noise screening, etc.).”
The territory’s Department of Education also told the city it “did not have a strong objection with buffer changes in general, but any proposed change needs to be examined individually in how it may affect the local school community.”
During council discussion, Coun. Dan Boyd recalled considerations that went into regulations for cannabis retail shops ahead of cannabis being legalized in 2018, with sales then privatized in 2019. He pointed out the city had opted to move forward with regulations deemed as “fairly robust”, which could then perhaps be relaxed as time went on rather than moving forward with more relaxed regulations that may need to be tightened up.
“Four years has gone by,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot. Everybody’s got fairly comfortable with cannabis sales in the community and they understand what they are and how they operate and the pros and cons.”
Boyd said he’s looking forward to the bylaw process moving forward.
Others on council voiced support for looking at ways to help it move more quickly through the process, given the final two readings wouldn’t come forward until Oct. 10.
If first reading is passed July 25, a public hearing would not be scheduled until Sept. 12 with a report then coming forward Oct. 3, ahead of the final two readings the following week.
As Simard explained, the lengthy period for the zoning change comes in part due to council’s annual summer recess which follows the Aug. 8 meeting. The following council meeting is not scheduled until Sept. 6.
Coun. Kirk Cameron suggested scheduling a special meeting during the recess to deal with the rezoning, with Coun. Ted Laking stating if there’s a way to expedite the process he would also favour holding a special meeting.
First reading of the bylaw will come forward July 25.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com