The president of company that planned to open a cannabis retail store in Sidney says he is considering legal action against the municipality after council signalled opposition.
“I don’t want to go that route, because I would like to have a positive relationship with Sidney and council. But we are considering that option,” said Jeff Prete of Jima Retail Corp.
Should the company pursue action, it would mark the second time the municipality would find itself in a legal dispute over a cannabis retail application.
Sidney’s first recreational cannabis retail store, Truth and Alibi won a case against the municipality in July 2020 after council signalled opposition in October 2019. The court said, among other points, the municipality failed to follow its own process.
Prete said he is considering legal options because council’s decision marks “an inconsistent application” of the municipality’s published guidelines. “I realize guidelines are not rules, but everyone expects consistent application, especially when it is a year-long process. It’s not like it changed yesterday. I was in a long time ago under their published guidelines.”
Prete believes himself a victim of a stigma against cannabis rather than fact.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Barbara Fallot, Peter Garnett, Terri O’Keeffe and Chad Rintoul in favour of a motion recommending against the issuance of a licence for the proposed store in the 9700-block of Third Street.
Only the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch can approve or deny application, but municipalities can shape the process by signalling support or opposition. The vote effectively ends the application, but Prete appears not ready to concede, as he has asked for a meeting with council to understand its decision and see if his business can submit additional information.
The motion against issuance identified the “close proximity to other cannabis retailers and family oriented facilities” and concerns raised by residents. It also states that Sidney “has considered the general impact on the community of the proposed cannabis retails store and has determined that the impact will on balance be negative.”
Couns. Sara Duncan and Peter Wainwright voted against the motion recommending opposition, with Wainwright voicing concern at the possibility of inviting litigation, with Duncan later echoing those concerns.
“If we were to recommend that the licence not be issued, we have to list the reasons,” Wainwright said. “Some reasons were proposed in the motion and quite a bit of the debate is about things that were not proposed in the motion,” he added, pointing to previous statements that cited recommendations from Island Health.
It recommends a minimum distance of 300 metres between cannabis shops, but gives smaller municipalities leeway. Sidney’s policy states that council will consider the impact of cannabis retailers to be located within 100 metres of other cannabis retailers. The proposed store is outside that radius relative to the two others.
Sidney’s 100-metre policy also applies to child care facilities, daycares, educational facilities, libraries, public recreation centres, public community centres, parks, places of worship and other family-oriented facilities. Two facilities (Scouts Canada Hall and Sidney Museum and Archives) lie within the radius.
McNeil-Smith says even supporters of cannabis retail in the downtown core did not “envision seeing stores across the downtown every 100 metres.”
McNeil-Smith said he does not favour a specific cap on the number of stores in Sidney. “However, if you abide by our current policy of 100 metres, we could have half a dozen or more stores just in the downtown. At what number do you stop then?”
The 100-metre policy also applies to facilities other than cannabis retailers, he added. “I believe there is a distinction to be made in the the buffer to the family uses and a distinction between the buffer between (cannabis) stores,” he said. “You can have half a dozen cannabis retailers that were not within a 100 metres of these family-related businesses but they could be within a 100 metres of each other and I don’t believe the majority of our community is accepting of that at this time.”
Staff had recommended support, noting among other other points that application satisfied existing bylaws and the municipality’s own cannabis policy. While the first batch of submissions to the municipality showed opponents outweighing supporters by an 8-to-6 count, the majority of late submissions prior to Monday’s special public participation opportunity favoured the application.
Supporters include among other individuals identifying themselves as nearby business owners and the Sidney Business Area Improvement Society representing downtown merchants.
McNeil-Smith confirmed in a lengthy response to the PNR that a representative for Jima Cannabis has reached out to the municipality since the decision. “(Staff) will consider and respond to in due course,” he said. “As you have indicated that Mr. Prete is considering legal options, I have no further comment at this time.”
McNeil-Smith said the muncipality’s resolution to the LCRB will complete its review of the application.
“Given the feedback (council) has received through four retail cannabis applications, (council) will now consider amending guidelines within the policy,” he said.