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This week’s mailbox: The proposed downtown cannabis shop

Mayor and Council,

Mayor and Council,

As General Manager of the Fire and Flower Cannabis Shop, I have waited to comment regarding the recent application for a new cannabis shop and possible modification of the buffer rules as more information came to light.

I have real concerns about this store’s application and support my colleagues/competitors in their disapproval of the location of the shop. More concerning to me is the seemingly inappropriate expediency of this council to approve changes to the buffer zone when one considers that an applicant was employed by the city’s economic development department. I must tell you that the optics do not look good and brings to question the integrity and impartiality of this council. (Editor’s Note: Jordan Stackhouse is the former economic development officer, and has not been employed by the city since undertaking this new business.)

On face value, you have one applicant previously employed by a denied applicant for a similar location, and another, an economic development officer with the City of Whitehorse. Two individuals who are without doubt, well versed with the rules and regulations involved in the opening of a cannabis shop and also well aware of the past decisions of the Cannabis Licensing Board (CLB) for the opening of a shop in that location. And yet knowing this, they chose this specific location and moved forward with a lease and the associated cost, which leaves one wondering if some sort of assurances were made to them? I note that two previous proposals were considered in the same approximate area in question, and both denied due to the location’s proximity to a school. How is it that those two proposals were denied, without the city proposing buffer changes for them as well? Why are these new applicants afforded this luxury? What is the difference between these applications? Have there been new market conditions that we are unaware of? Have there been sudden changes to the retailing of cannabis that have precipitated an immediate amendment to the prescribed rules?

I want to be very clear that this is not about competition: none of my colleagues, nor I, approached the Yukon Liquor Corporation (YLC) or CLB to disapprove the recent opening of a cannabis shop on Main Street. They followed and met all the Yukon government and municipal guidelines and rules. I am certain they, like many before, looked at potential spaces and because of the guidelines chose a different venue.

And though it is not relative to the present situation, a serious question needs to be asked and studied in allowing unfettered openings of cannabis stores. This has become an issue in other municipalities and cities across Canada as they investigate limiting storefronts due to market saturations, loss of revenues, bankruptcies, lost employment, the increased availability of cannabis in the community which creates health and addiction concerns, neighbourhood and real estate valuations. Provincial governments, moved by concerned citizens, are preparing legislation on restricting the amount of cannabis retailers allowed in certain municipalities should cities fail to do so.

I believe that downtown Whitehorse is well served by cannabis. Any new shops should be encouraged to move outward towards the suburban centres, such as Granger, Porter Creek and Whistle Bend, which are presently underserved, and of course not without a say by the communities affected. The YLC advised in the administrative report “that the buffer is not a critical piece of youth protection, regarding schools” — an observation that I wholeheartedly disagree with, as to only limit the effect of a storefront by its proximity to a school is short-sighted. What is more important is to consider how it affects the immediate community and how that community interacts with the proposed area.

Moving the buffer for an obviously favoured applicant does not take into consideration other stakeholders in this area and is careless and irresponsible on the part of the council. When one considers that:

- Besides the The Independent Learning Centre, there are two Montessori daycare-schools in the area: the Montessori Borealis Aurora Casa on Ogilvie and Front streets, and the Bambinos Bilingual Montessori Daycare on Ogilvie and 3rd streets.

- Shipyards Park, literally across from the proposed location, is well used by families, schools, teams and associations for events private and public.

- A recent addition, the city’s newly constructed Jumpstart Playground is literally across the street in full view of the potential storefront. What exactly was the jumpstart the city had in mind?

- The area is known as a “fast food lane” used by many families and children and young adults.

- To move the buffer zone from 150 metres to 100 metres and then determine that the location is now safe and benign is inane: the school is still in the same location and the students are still equally exposed. The Independent Learning Centre caters to at-risk youth who require a tailored approach to learning, and add to that the daycares/Montessori schools, parks and playgrounds, you are putting vulnerable and impressionable youth and children at risk.

- Should children associate the sale of burgers, donuts, pizza and groceries on equal par with the sale of cannabis?

- Should families and children be exposed while playing in the park to cannabis use and inebriated users? Whereas buyers at other storefronts tend to return to private dwellings to consume, having a park literally less than 20 metres away will no doubt add to the increased consumption in the park and could possibly make the park unusable and unsafe to families.

You also have the Yukon government’s liquor store, and in a recent ruling by the CLB on a denied applicant for a similar location, the CLB concluded that opening a cannabis store so close to a liquor store should be further considered and/or studied, I quote: “There may indeed be an issue with the co-location of proposed cannabis retail locations and existing liquor retail outlets worth considering in future applications. Protecting health and safety is a stated purpose of the [Cannabis Control and Regulation Act] alongside protecting young persons and preventing their access to cannabis. The board takes this mandate seriously.”

What studies, besides an administrative report, has the city provided? In that report, the Board of Education determined that: “The government of Yukon’s department of Education also advised … that any proposed change needs to be examined individually in how it may affect the local school community.”

Where is the study? I challenge the administrative report assertion that it is up to the Board of Education to submit data to the city because they are not the ones changing the buffer zones. It’s up to the city to determine the effect of their changes before applying them.

In conclusion, we accept that changes are inevitable, and that there will be new cannabis storefronts in the future. As well, it is understood that as the retailing of cannabis progresses, there will be market and community needs that will cause either an easing of some and/or a continuation of other controls by the Yukon government. There is an update scheduled for the very near future. And these changes are being done cautiously and as a studied approach with all the stakeholders involved, and not at the whim of, or as a favour to, by the city council.

As city councilors, your decisions should, and must always be made regarding what is best for all of the citizens of the City of Whitehorse, not just for a few. Is the changing of the protective buffer zone rules in one area, for one shop, for the purpose of selling more cannabis really in the best interest of our citizens, our families, and our youth and children? Regards


General Manager

Fire and Flower