Officials take first steps in removing cap on cannabis stores in Merritt, B.C.

The outside of the BC Cannabis Store. (Black Press Media files)

By Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald

Council has taken the first step in eliminating the cap on retail cannabis stores within the City of Merritt.

On July 24, 2018, council adopted an amendment to the City of Merritt Zoning Bylaw which allowed a maximum of four retail cannabis stores to be established within the city.

On June 25, 2019 council directed staff to prepare a report for council to discuss whether the cap should be amended. At the time, following the presentation of the report on Aug. 13, council decided to maintain the limit of four stores.

However, at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, Planning and Development Manager Don McArthur addressed the cap, stating that one store was operational, another was set to open and a third was going through the provincial review. A fourth application had been terminated by the province, raising the question of whether a four-store cap should remain.

Most councillors and Mayor Brown were in favour of removing the cap and allowing market economy to dictate the number of stores that were viable.

“I’m very much in favour of removing the cap, I disagree with a cap on legal business forms at all and if I were to choose a cap on any business it would be businesses that sell cigarettes before cannabis, so I’m happy to see this cap removed if we do vote in that way,” said Councillor Fehr.

Mayor Brown echoed these sentiments. “I was against putting a cap in previously and I still am,” said Brown.

“I don’t see why we have to cap cannabis we haven’t capped any other industry in town we’ve only capped this one and it makes absolutely no sense to me, and I’m not in favour of maintaining that cap.”

Councillor Christopherson, who was originally in favour of the cap, was also in agreement with its removal.

“Originally I was in favour of the cap, but so long as all of the other constraints are in effect as far as the locations and so on, I no longer have that concern because I think it’s a business that self regulates, they have to make money in order to stay open,” said Christopherson.

Councillors Bhangu and White spoke out against removing the cap, with Bhangu wishing to “leave the cap as is”.

“My position is that we control how many liquor stores how can be open and as far as I’m concerned marijuana is in the same category and I am against removing the cap,” said councillor White.

Councillor Etchart was on the fence, believing four stores would be enough for Merritt but agreed with Christopherson that they would likely `self-regulate’.

At the vote, the motion was passed with Councillors Bhangu and White opposed. The Zoning Bylaw amendment will be brought back to council to be discussed and debated, and a Public Hearing would also be held before the amendment would be adopted.

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