John Streicker, the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corp., in Whitehorse on March 7. Streicker confirmed April 1 that the territory has received at least one application from a prospective business hoping to set up a pot shop outside of Whitehorse. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Communities contemplate cannabis commerce

Bylaw updates underway throughout the territory to regulate private pot sales

John Streicker, the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corp., confirmed the territory has received an application from a prospective business hoping to set up a pot shop outside of the City of Whitehorse.

Speaking in the legislative assembly April 1, Streicker said three applications have been received as the territory gets set to allow for the private retail sale of legal cannabis. Two are from within the capital city. He would not confirm where the other is from except to say that it is from outside of Whitehorse.

As of the morning of April 5, the only private retail application listed on the Yukon Liquor Corporation website is for Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse.

Scott Westerlaken, the liquor corporation’s marketing and social responsibility coordinator, explained it’s only after an application is in the public notification period that the Yukon government makes information on applications available.

Officials in both Dawson and Watson Lake confirmed they’ve heard about prospective businesses looking to set up shop in their communities, though haven’t seen anything official.

Watson Lake’s chief administrative officer Cam Lockwood said he’s heard of four in his community, but would not reveal who those are.

Dawson Mayor Wayne Potoroka said he’s heard about one though he’s not aware of who might be looking to open up a shop in the Klondike.

Potential business owners in Watson Lake may have a better sense of any town regulations they’d be subject to later in April when council is scheduled to vote on third reading of zoning changes for the retail shops.

A 150 metre buffer from schools, parks with play structures and any licensed child care facility would be in place.

Territorial legislation includes the 150 m buffer from elementary and high schools, though individual communities can alter that.

Watson Lake council is also considering a density clause of one store per 200 residents.

Residents wanted to see a limit on the number of stores. Given possible population changes in years ahead, Mayor Cheryl O’Brien said it seemed better to base the number of stores on the population rather than setting a strict limit.

In Dawson, second reading for revisions to the Official Community Plan have passed. The changes would essentially allow for the sale of cannabis without any additional restrictions outside of territorial legislation.

Potoroka described potential shops as “one more part of the retail fabric of the community.”.

The challenge in Dawson is the limited space downtown for a retail operation given the short distance to Robert Service School. Potoroka said discussions among council are underway about it, as the school is likely within 150 m of the commercial area of the downtown. Council may look at what changes it could make to the setback, Potoroka said.

In many communities it will be some time before any shops can set up business as they are still in the midst of updating bylaws to regulate cannabis retail operations.

One community is opting for a wait and see approach to learn how things go for other municipalities.

Mayo Mayor Scott Bolton said council opted not to allow any retail shops in the community for a one-year period. The community wanted a more cautious approach.

The decision to hold off by a year will give the community time to look at the experience of other municipalities, not only in the Yukon but also throughout the country.

The village can then make a more informed decision on how it wants to proceed with retail sales, Bolton said.

“It’s a big unknown. This gives us a chance to learn from others.”

As for feedback from residents hoping to buy legal pot in their hometown or open up shop, Bolton said there hasn’t been anyone taking issue with the decision.

Given the village’s small population (at 400) and the hoops prospective retailers have to jump through to open a retail shop, Bolton said he’d be shocked if there was anyone looking to open in Mayo. The economics just aren’t there, he said, adding residents can already purchase pot online and have it mailed to them.

That said, Bolton added if someone expressed an interest council would likely be willing to consider changes to the one-year ban, depending on the proposed plan.

Faro and Teslin have already adopted their own regulations.

In Faro, any retail outlet looking to sell cannabis must bring the plans to council for spot zoning approval, ensuring decisions are made a case by case basis.

Teslin adopted its Cannabis Zoning Amendment Bylaw last July, just a few months before pot became legal and the government opened its store that is planned to be eventually closed.

Teslin’s bylaw includes a 300 m buffer from the Teslin Community School, licensed childcare facilities and the community centre. A larger 400 m buffer would be in place between cannabis retail stores.

Hours of operation would be limited to between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m and owners would be required to provide a plan for preventing “noxious smells from emanating from the businesses.”

There are also restrictions on signs for any cannabis retail stores in Teslin.

Regulations in Carmacks will stay in line with the territory’s rules.

As village councillor Tara Wheeler explained council had looked at more possibilities, but given the community’s layout and limited commercial area, members didn’t want to put any greater restrictions on potential businesses.

Wheeler also serves as president of the Associaiton of Yukon Communities and said the issue is slated for discussion at the next board meeting.

Officials in Haines Junction were not available for comment on the issue by presstime.

As communities in the territory ready for private retail sales of cannabis to begin, liquor corporation officials anticipate “a further shift of cannabis users from the illicit market to the legal market,” Westerlaken stated in an email.

Just how much of a shift away from the illicit market there’s been in the Yukon since legalization isn’t clear.

“By the nature of the illicit market, it is difficult to track its activity and value,” Westerlaken said, citing a Statistics Canada report from February showing the number of cannabis users has not increased substantially since legalization.

A total of $2 million worth of cannabis has been sold through the government’s retail and online store between its October opening and March 31.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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