A trio of entrepreneurs hope to open what would be Sidney’s first retail location for recreational cannabis on Nov. 1 after councillors signaled their support Monday night.
Hours after council voted six-one in favour of their application, Cindy Pendergast, her son Zach Pendergast, and Brad Styles were in their proposed retail location in the 2400-block of Beacon Avenue Tuesday morning, setting up for the next phase.
Monday’s vote came exactly 11 months to the day after councillors rejected their first application then operating under the name Happy Buddha Cannabis – a moniker now dropped.
Both Pendergast and Styles admitted to some “very dark moments” after council’s initial rejection, but nonetheless decided to “go all in on their poker hand,” as Styles said, pointing to their decision to challenge council in court.
Monday’s special public participation opportunity was a direct outcome of the entrepreneurs’ successful court challenge.
Justice Jennifer Power of the British Columbia Supreme Court found that Sidney failed to follow public process in hearing the initial application. Power also sided with the business’ argument that Sidney cannot require the business to do something that is against provincial law, in this case require transparent store front windows when provincial regulations required — at least at the time — opaque windows.
As was the case during the initial hearing, public opinion appeared on the side of the entrepreneurs. Prior to Monday’s hearing, councillors received 348 submissions with 311 (including the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce) favouring the application for a number of reasons, including health and economic development. Several also praised the applicants’ integrity, while others pointed out that Canada’s decision to legalize cannabis in October 2018 means that the product deserves the same treatment as alcohol.
The vast majority of speakers Monday also favoured the application, but Gail Hazlehurst, a long-time critic of the application, expressed opposition, citing a letter from Vancouver Island Health Authority, in which top public medical officers call on municipalities to do their part to “[ensure] local retail sales of non-medical cannabis should be limited to reduce the unintended exposure by youth and harmful patterns of consumption in the general population.”
Hazlehurst said it “could make it appear that Sidney was promoting and normalizing the use of recreational cannabis here,” adding that such a store should not be allowed on the town’s main street.
Monday’s vote meant Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Barbara Fallot and Chad Rintoul in switching their respective votes to favour the applicants. Couns. Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett and Peter Wainwright also voted for a positive referral to the Liquor Control and Cannabis Licensing Branch (LCRB) for a final, formal approval.
Coun. Terri O’Keeffe remained opposed.
Some gave their new support grudgingly.
“I believe that normalization with cannabis sales on our main street sends the wrong message to youth in our community,” Rintoul said. “However, I have listened. I have seen the sales of other products on our main street that youth have been exposed to and I believe that it is the responsibility of the community as a whole to help foster and guide their decision-making. And so although, it disappoints me personally, I will support the motion this evening as the majority of residents and respondents have been supporting this application.”
Pendergast promised the business would set a “very high bar for itself” and for Sidney.
“We are exciting to meet it,” she said. “We are going to meet it. It’s going be wonderful and we are going to be doing wonderful things for this community.”
One issue remain though: the name of the business. The business dropped its original name after hearing from the Buddhist community and is currently running a naming contest with three dozen submission already in, with many of them riffing off Beacon Avenue.
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