Community Services Minister John Streicker said the territorial government is fine with locating its store in Marwell. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse zoning change could put Yukon’s first pot shop in Marwell

City planner says YG looking to put sales and retail under same roof

The territory’s first cannabis store will be located somewhere within Whitehorse’s Marwell neighbourhood if city council approves a zoning amendment next month.

City staff are recommending council create a specific category for businesses selling cannabis products and require that those businesses be in the mixed-use commercial/industrial zone in Marwell.

Marwell was chosen for cannabis sales because it’s central in Whitehorse but “a bit less visible” than if the store was located in the downtown core, Melodie Simard, the city’s manager of planning and sustainability, told council Jan. 8.

The area contains larger buildings than you would find right downtown, she said. “YG is looking ideally to have their retail and their warehousing within the same facility. That would be their ideal.” A report to council mentions buildings with more than 900 square metres of storage capacity.

Cannabis would also be compatible with other businesses and land uses in the area, she said. Marwell is also close to the Yukon Liquor Corporation offices, and accessible by transit.

One of the reasons administration is recommending Marwell for cannabis retail stores is because it is away from schools and other “sensitive public values,” Jeff O’Farrell, the city’s acting director of community and recreation services, said in an interview.

Cannabis is slated to be legal across Canada some time this summer. Initially, the Yukon government will maintain a monopoly on retail sales. The government is planning to open one location in Whitehorse and have an online store up and running by the time cannabis is legalized.

The Yukon Liberal government has said it needs more time to develop regulations for private retailers.

If that happens, additional areas outside of Marwell could be approved for retail stores, according to a report to council.

Currently, Whitehorse’s bylaws don’t mention cannabis, Simard said. The original authors never considered legalization.

If city council doesn’t make the change, once cannabis is legal, it could be sold anywhere within the city where retail is allowed, Simard said.

Community Services Minister John Streicker said the territorial government is fine with locating its store in Marwell.

Streicker said territorial government officials have been working with the city before the zoning amendment was tabled.

“There are opportunities in the area that we can look at, but all of them might need a bit of work,” Streicker said.

The Yukon government has started coming up with a shortlist of places that might be leased but hasn’t settled on a location yet, he said.

Simard said once a retail location has been identified through the tender process, the location will have to be reviewed by the city’s development review committee.

Whitehorse city council is expected to vote on the proposed new zoning bylaw Feb. 26. A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for Feb. 12.

There are other Whitehorse bylaws that ideally would also be amended before cannabis legalization, said O’Farrell.

Those include the bylaws dealing with business licenses and fees as well as the bylaw that outlines how illegal grow-ops are currently dealt with when they are uncovered.

Those bylaws would ideally be amended before cannabis is legalized, but not changing them in time won’t prevent the Yukon government’s location from opening, he said.

There’s still no word on what portion of the tax revenue from cannabis sales will end up going to municipalities.

O’Farrell said the city hasn’t come up with a specific request for the Yukon government yet. “At this point we’re waiting to see what the territorial government’s framework might look like.”

Under the terms of a deal signed late last year, 25 per cent of the taxes collected from cannabis sales will go to the federal government up to a maximum of $100 million a year. The rest will go to the provinces and territories. It’s up to the individual jurisdictions to decide how much goes to municipalities.

Yukoners will get a better look at the territory’s proposed legislation later this week. The government has scheduled a media briefing on Yukon’s proposed Cannabis Control Act Jan 11.

With files from Amy Kenny

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Jeff O’Farrell’s title with the city. O’Farrell is acting director of community and recreation services, and no longer manager of legislative services.

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