The District of West Vancouver will soon add to the North Shore’s herb ‘n’ sprawl after council approved an interim non-medical cannabis retail policy at its May 31 general meeting.
The District of West Vancouver has rolled forward with an interim plan to allow cannabis retailers to open up shop in a number of areas.
While non-medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since October 2018 and retail stores have sprung up across the Lower Mainland and the two other North Shore municipalities, the district has taken a very cautious approach on the matter and hasn’t permitted retail cannabis stores to open.
Although, the district will soon add to the North Shore’s herb ‘n’ sprawl after council approved an interim non-medical cannabis retail policy at its May 31 general meeting.
The policy will allow for a maximum of four cannabis stores to open across all of West Vancouver in primary commercial areas, including Ambleside, Dundarave, Horseshoe Bay and (as defined in the Marine Drive local area plan) Park Royal/Lions Gate Bridge area. The areas were chosen based on their existing commercial land uses, population density and convenient access to transit service.
The policy also requires a minimum 100-metre separation distance from elementary and secondary schools. The report noted the Caulfeild shopping area was not included for consideration due to its proximity to Rockridge Secondary.
To gauge community interest, from March 29 to April 12, staff asked the public to comment on the draft interim policy that would provide a framework for the approval of retail cannabis establishments. The online survey, which received 550 responses, highlighted that overall, 65 per cent of residents are in general support of cannabis stores, 28 per cent are opposed, and seven per cent are neutral comments or gave no response.
While the interim policy was unanimously supported by council, there were some concerns about the industry entering West Van.
There was a little disagreement when it came to the limit of four cannabis stores in the policy, with Coun. Bill Soprovich questioning if four retailers was too many for the district to start with and Mayor Mary-Ann Booth advocating for two more to be added for a total of six, in line with the City of North Vancouver’s policy.
“This is a small community, we don’t need, you know, one on every doorstep,” Soprovich said. “We really don’t.”
Booth tried to amend the motion to add an additional store to both the Ambleside and Marine Drive/Taylor Way (Park Royal) areas due to the larger size of the areas but it was defeated.
As a parent, Coun. Craig Cameron also raised the concern of cannabis retailers selling products to minors.
“I really worry about the impact on certain teens who are vulnerable and on the health issues that are arising,” he said. “So, to me, part of a public process would be having proponents explain what they’re going to do to ensure there isn’t diversion coming out of their stores because … I’m told, second hand by teens that are in my life, that there are certain places downtown that will sell to them.”
Cannabis stores are ‘vital and vibrant commercial operations’
Meanwhile, Coun. Nora Gambioli was fairly positive about the budding industry. She noted that cannabis stores are “vital and vibrant commercial operations” that would be a benefit to all the local businesses nearby when the stores are eventually put in place.
“I think we need to get going … but I don’t think it’s a good idea to go too quickly. A reasonable, moving along is great. I think staff has struck a really reasonable balance relating to the consultation and the practicality of this.”
Gambiolli also mentioned that she had a chance to tour Bowen Island’s first cannabis store Happy Isle Cannabis Co. last summer and she thought it was “incredible.”
“I have to say, that my most memorable impression was that it was like a pharmacy. It was nothing like, you know, what we’ve driven by in the Gastown area, those kinds of operations that have been there for 20 years that weren’t even legal, it was completely innocuous, and it was inside like a pharmacy.”
“I don’t think that residents have anything to worry about.”
On a similar note, Booth said she expected support for cannabis stores from the community – including seniors.
“This is uncharted territory for West Vancouver,” she said. “I have a feeling we’re going to hear support from groups that we wouldn’t have expected. The seniors that really love the cannabis store over and on Bowen Island and using it for medicinal [purposes] and sleep. I’m hearing this from my mom and her friends.
“They’re kind of jumping on the bandwagon. Sometimes, I think it’s the boomers that are getting in the way of the seniors on this one.”
So far, the district has received five cannabis store applications.
The provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch is responsible for issuing licences for cannabis retail stores and enforcing regulations, investigating complaints, and enforcing compliance, while the municipality determines land use and issues business licences.
After discussions on the fairness of the interim policy when it came to considering store applications on a “first come, first served basis,” Council moved a motion and directed staff to bring forward all cannabis retail applications received in a batch for Council’s consideration.
They also added a June 30 deadline for anyone wanting to submit an application.
The City of North Vancouver implemented its recreational cannabis retail policy back on Sept. 17, 2018, and has since approved four out of six pot shops. The following year, the District of North Vancouver council approved its new non-medical cannabis policy on July 22, 2019, and has so far given the green light to three cannabis retailers to open.
West Van’s interim policy will be in place for two years to allow for monitoring and reporting back to council once cannabis retail stores have been established.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.