Sidney will notify local schools, daycares and parents advisory groups including those in North Saanich to weigh in on what could be Sidney’s first cannabis retail store, a move that some councillors have questioned as biased. Others have justified it for public health reasons. (Black Press Media file photo)

Sidney is notifying schools, daycare and parents to weigh in on proposed cannabis store

Some councillors question motives, while others point to public health concerns

A trio of Sidney councillors questions why their colleagues support language that requires the municipality to notify local schools, daycares and parents advisory groups – including those in North Saanich – about an upcoming meeting concerning what could be Sidney’s first cannabis retail store.

But supporters of the additional notification pointed to a letter from Island Health (VIHA) signed by top public health doctors in which they call on municipal governments 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.”

RELATED: Happy Buddha Cannabis hopes to be before Sidney council ‘soon’

Couns. Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett and Peter Wainwright voted against the additional language after Sidney council, meeting as a committee, received a revised application from Happy Buddha Cannabis.

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Barbara Fallot, Terri O’Keeffe, and Chad Rintoul in support of the language.

Wainwright said the additional notification would not only be onerous on staff, but also send a questionable message.

RELATED:Court strikes down Sidney’s denial of proposed cannabis store

“By expanding beyond what we have done for Gateway [and other controversial projects] in the past, it would appear we are sending a message that ‘something really evil is being proposed. We want to make sure everybody in the world knows about it and we strongly want you to write us your objections’,” he said.

Duncan agreed and wondered by Sidney would solicit input from voices outside the community. If parents are concerned about the proposed retail operation, they will make their voices heard, she said. “I don’t see any reason why a daycare in North Saanich and the small children who go there would be at a risk from the legal operation of a facility [in Sidney].”

Duncan also questioned why Sidney is subjecting the proposed sale of cannabis to greater scrutiny than alcohol.

“I don’t believe we should be making a distinction that we would not be making for any other product classified in this way,” she said. “I understand why VHIA has taken the opportunity as a health authority to request municipalities make extra recommendations because they cannot do that with alcohol.”

RELATED: Plans for pot shop in Sidney spark back to life

The language calling for the additional notification originated from O’Keeffe, who pointed to the letter. “It [cannabis] is something that does have a negative impact on youth as outlined by Island Health, so I think it is reasonable to reach out specifically to parents of youth to allow them to opportunity to provide input if they wish,” she said.

Coun. Barbara Fallot said the municipality is not trying to “turn back the clock” on the legality. “Cannabis is legal — fair enough,” she said. “But is there any impact in our community [concerning] where the store is located? If there is a difference between a store being in one location and another, maybe that is something that we need to consider.”

Council’s division over the notification — later unanimously ratified as part of a larger package of consultation measures — mirrored its earlier disagreements about the application in October 2019, when council voted 4-3 against the application with opponents pointing to the municipality’s requirement for transparent windows on Beacon Avenue among other reasons.

The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCRB) at the time had required opaque windows, setting up a contradiction between municipal and provincial regulations.

RELATED: Sidney’s first-ever pot store application flames out before council

Several weeks later, the business started legal proceedings against the municipality, in part on the basis that the municipality could not require the business to do something not in line with provincial law. In June 2020, the provincial government dropped the requirement for opaque windows leaving the application in compliance with both provincial and municipal requirements.

But Justice Jennifer Power of the British Columbia Supreme Court in July nonetheless agreed with the business in handing the applicants — Cindy Pendergast and Brad Styles — a legal victory, with the court finding that municipality failed to follow the process in hearing the application.

O’Keeffe cited this part of the ruling in making her case for an extensive consultation process.

During their virtual appearance before council earlier this month, Pendergas and Styles struck a conciliatory tone in stressing the would-be economic effects of their business.

The application is set for public hearing in the fall.


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