Seven residents are calling on the city to turn down a proposed rezoning to allow a cannabis shop to open in the former Marble Slab on Second Avenue.
They spoke during a public hearing on the rezoning during council’s Sept. 12 meeting. Many of their points focused on the impact a nearby cannabis store could have on youth attending the Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre (ILC).
Proponents Jordan Stackhouse and Daniel Schneider also addressed council about their plans for the Community Cannabis store.
Along with those speaking at the hearing, the city received a total of 52 written submissions with 19 expressing concerns or opposition to the rezoning and another 33 expressing support.
Stackhouse said he and Schneider signed a five-year lease for the space after researching the buffers required and based on a city map showing the location as being in compliance with the buffer zone.
He also pointed out their shop was 197 metres from a school — the ILC — based on door-to-door measurements and more than 100 m from NVD Place itself where the school is located. NVD Place, at Ogilvie Street and Fourth Avenue also features a number of other services, businesses and organizations.
It was only after signing the lease they learned it did not meet the boundary requirements based on the lot line to lot line measurement used to determine the distance. The pair then applied for the zoning change to allow their store to open.
After explaining the situation again to council during the hearing, Stackhouse highlighted plans for the local business that would employ eight individuals, who in addition to their pay would receive a bank of 35 hours per year to volunteer in the community. A portion of the store’s sales would also go back to the community, Stackhouse said.
It was a social media post that council members focused their questions on, though, with Mayor Laura Cabott first raising the issue. She asked Stackhouse to explain the Aug. 24 letter the city received from the proponents reporting they had taken down a social media post about the rezoning.
Stackhouse responded by describing it as a “lesson learned,” noting he and Schneider had decided to contact friends and family asking for support in the public hearing.
A draft email between the two was mistakenly posted to Facebook and removed in 24 hours, they said. The email considered offering a hug or a discount in exchange for support on the rezoning.
“We have never offered anyone a discount for their support,” he said. “We have never been asked to provide a discount for anyone (for) support. And while we do regret our error it was an honest mistake.”
Coun. Michelle Friesen questioned whether any efforts were made to clear things up after the post was taken down, pointing out the city received 29 submissions in support after the post was published.
Stackhouse reported that a follow-up post was not published because “nothing happened” from the initial situation, though he also stated he can appreciate the optics of the situation.
Others who appeared before council called on the city not to change the current zoning.
“The bylaw exists for a reason,” Blaise Shilleto, a former teacher and team leader at the school, said.
Those attending the ILC are often among the most vulnerable and at-risk, she said.
The ILC provides high school education to those who have challenges in the standard education system and are between the ages of 16 and 21, or older in some cases.
Having a nearby cannabis store is not in students’ best interest, she said.
Marie Fast, who has worked in mental health, noted the difficulty that comes for anyone when a harmful product is nearby. She made her point by comparing the situation to someone trying to eat healthier having chocolate close by.
The further away a product is, the more time a person has to think about their decision and perhaps opt not to make that purchase.
She argued vulnerable youth need a higher standard of care and recommended council not approve the rezoning based on the health of young people.
Her presentation came following that of a former ILC student, who recalled his own challenges with school and substance use during his high school years. Having issues at other high schools, it was thought a different environment at the ILC might be a better fit for him.
At first, he said, it didn’t go all that well, particularly given the close vicinity to the liquor store.
“I was able to obtain liquor from both the off sales and liquor store,” he said. “If there had been a cannabis store nearby, I also would have gotten (cannabis) there.”
He went on to argue that if you put something in front of a kid and tell them not to go near it, that’s exactly what they will do. The zoning is in place to protect youth, he said, urging council not to approve the rezoning.
Along with the school are nearby daycares, a playground in Shipyards Park and the Teegatha’oh Zheh program for individuals with intellectual disabilities, Kwanlin Dün First Nation elder Jessie Dawson pointed out in opposing the rezoning.
She highlighted a number of concerns about having a cannabis store in the area ranging from impaired driving to edible cannabis products falling into the wrong hands.
Another former teacher at the ILC as well as NDP Leader Kate White also spoke out against the rezoning, calling on the city to consider the well-being of the students with Richard Fuller, chief operating officer of The Herbary (another cannabis retail shop in town), also opposed to the rezoning.
The Herbary had applied to open a store at the Second Avenue site, but that location was taken off the table when it was clear it was within the buffer zone.
A report on the public hearing will come forward to council on Oct. 3, ahead of second and third reading scheduled for Oct. 11.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org