Jordi Mikeli-Jones, owner of Triple J’s Music and Tattoos, poses for a photo in her shop in Whitehorse on Oct. 16, the day before marijuana legalization across Canada. Mikeli-Jones has been working towards opening a private pot shop for some time now. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

No licenses for private pot sales until zoning is approved

The earliest the City of Whitehorse could approve pot shop zoning is April 8

Although the Yukon Liquor Corporation has begun accepting applications for private cannabis retail sales, none of those licenses can be granted outside the Marwell-area until the City of Whitehorse works out where those shops can and cannot be in the downtown core.

Marwell is currently the only area in Whitehorse zoned for retail pot sales, which is where the government-run pot shop has set up. City council will be considering a bylaw which would allow private cannabis retail sales in the downtown area at the Feb. 25 regular council meeting.

If it passes first reading, a newspaper ad regarding the zoning changes will need to be published March 1 and March 8, followed by a public hearing on March 25 and a report to council April 1.

This means that the earliest council will be able to have a final vote on the matter is April 8, meaning that people who have applied for licenses will only be able to have them granted by the Cannabis Review Board after that date.

This lengthy process of public hearings and notification is standard for all zoning bylaws in the city and is not specific to cannabis.

In 2018, council created a new type of zoning – “Retail Sales, Restricted” – specifically to handle the sale of marijuana and related products.

The recommendations from city staff currently before council about where pot shops can and cannot be in the downtown core contain a host of buffering limitations, including being 100 metres away from each other, emergency shelters, addiction treatment centres and parks containing a play structure, and 150 metres away from any school.

John Streicker, the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation (YLC) told the News that his department has been “working very hard to bring the application process forward” and that they have been “working very closely with the city.”

“There were no surprises here,” he said

The territory respects the jurisdiction of the city to decide where it wants pot shops to be, he said.

Private sales were “always part of the plan” he noted, adding that the government is thinking about “the whole territory” when it makes decisions around licensing, not just Whitehorse.

“We’ve been working all along to get to private retail … it’s important to the whole territory… and we are endeavoring to move as quickly as possible,” he said.

At the Feb. 18 standing committees meeting, manager of planning and sustainability for the city, Melodie Simard said that licensing was within jurisdiction of the territory, and that the city “didn’t know how they were going to handle” that yet.

“This is a very unique (circumstance) in that it is built on trust between levels of government,” she said.

When applicants apply for a private cannabis retail license, the package is submitted to the Yukon Liquor Corporation, but it’s actually the recently-created Cannabis Review Board which says who can and can’t have a license, Streicker said.

The YLC accepts the applications, gathers information and issues public notices. The Cannabis Review Board can decide to call a public hearing to review the application, if it feels it is necessary, and is responsible for reviewing the information presented by the YLC and either granting or denying a license.

The process should usually take between eight to 12 weeks from the time the application is filed, Streicker said, a timeframe which includes a public hearing, should the licensing board choose to have one. However, that timeframe won’t be applicable until city council decides on zoning.

Jordi Mikeli-Jones has been working towards opening a private pot shop for some time now. She has already purchased 211 Wood Street (the old Yukon News offices) with the intention of turning the building into a cannabis retail outlet which – if granted a license – will eventually include a cultivation information centre and a CBD-oil spa, she said.

That property’s location just barely comes in as allowable under the proposed zoning regulations, being around 180 m away from Whitehorse Elementary, she said.

Mikeli-Jones said she was initially “very happy” when she heard the government was accepting applications now, as that weren’t supposed to start until April 1, but learned upon dropping her application off that a license would not be granted until council decides on and approves zoning bylaws for pot shops and her location has “successfully received” that zoning.

Mikeli-Jones said she had hoped to have her retail shop open by April 12, but this “small hiccup… doesn’t bode well for us,” she said.

The sped-up process “seems to have caught the city off guard,” she noted.

“In January, YLC indicated that they were scheduled to have applications ready for release in the spring,” Myles Dolphin, communications manager for the city said via email about the matter.

“However, they did indicate that they were looking at ways of moving that schedule up. So when the recent announcement that the applications were going to be released this week, it was not a surprise.

This has no bearing on the timing for zoning approval with the Cannabis regulations being adopted in December and the time required to do a short survey and develop our regulations, we have brought forward our bylaw as quickly as possible. If no delays are incurred in either the Cannabis Review Board process or city council zoning amendment, the zoning and … cannabis license could be issued within two days of each other. Applicants will also need city development permits and possibly building permits.”

As of Feb. 21, Mikeli-Jones was the only applicant for a license, Strieker said.

Mikeli-Jones said she had been working on her application ahead of time and that its somewhere between 350 and 400 pages long.

“I’ve put my heart and soul into this,” she said.

She remains hopeful that the process can be sped up to allow her to open closer to her desired date, she added. She said her new store would add 12 jobs to the community, 10 of which are already filled.

“It’s really tough to be a the mercy of a new industry,” she said. “Sometimes it feels as if we are dealing with plutonium.”

“There’s nothing we can do now but wait and continue forward in good faith,” she said.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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