Ucluelet ready to roll on first cannabis store

A rendering of the cannabis retail store that Andrew Hanson is hoping to open in Ucluelet. (Image from May 15 council agenda)

Five years after legalization, Ucluelet appears to have hashed out its concerns and the community’s first retail cannabis store looks ready to roll.

During a May 15 special meeting, the town’s council voted 4-1 in favour of giving Andrew Hanson a three-year temporary use permit to sell non-medical marijuana within a retail unit inside The Lodge building at 250 Main St.

The spot formerly housed Official’s Sports Bar, which shut down in 2019. Hanson has since divided the space into three separate retail units and plans to sell cannabis out of one.

Hanson has operated a cannabis store in Port Alberni for the past three years.

In a report submitted to council on April 25, planning assistant Monica Whitney-Brown noted that, in anticipation of the federal government legalizing cannabis in 2018, Ucluelet adopted bylaws prohibiting both commercial cannabis sales and cannabis production within the municipality.

She wrote that the district received three retail cannabis applications, but all three were rejected due to local opposition.

“The public hearings associated with these applications were well attended and prompted significant community debate and discussion on the merits and drawbacks of the use,” Whitney-Brown wrote. “Ultimately, based on community feedback and Council discussion, Council did not adopt a zoning amendment to allow this use on any site in the District of Ucluelet.”

Whitney-Brown reiterated that cannabis sales are currently prohibited in Ucluelet, so Hanson would either need a temporary use permit or permanent rezoning approval.

She said allowing a temporary use permit instead of a permanent rezoning gives council a chance to set conditions, seek public input, and set up a trial stage “without permanently allowing it in the zoning at this stage.”

She added that if the TUP was approved, Hanson would then need to apply for and receive a provincial licence to operate a cannabis retail location in Ucluelet and he would also be under federal legislation around advertising and the provincial cannabis control and licensing act.

She noted that Hanson is an experienced cannabis retailer and has been operating an active licence in Port Alberni for the past three years and provided details around the training and education their staff go through.

Hanson thanked the planning department for their assistance with his application and assured council he would be open to suggestions and concerns regarding his temporary permit.

“If we do get it and in three years there’s concerns about our location or concerns about what we’re doing, which there won’t be, but any of those kind of concerns we’ll reflect back to council at that time when it’s a new application for a new permit or a rezoning and respect council’s decision at that time,” he said. “We’re here to solve problems, not create problems and it’s an open door.”

The application breezed through a public hearing held immediately prior to council’s decision, where everyone who spoke was in favour of the permit being granted.

“Being a business owner across the street, I think it would be a very positive aspect to the downtown community,” said Zane Nilson of Ukee Dogs. “I’ve always looked up to Andrew. I wouldn’t be where I am business wise without his guidance and I wouldn’t want anyone else to do it.”

Nilson also suggested that tourists are visiting Tofino instead of Ucluelet because they can purchase cannabis in Tofino.

Jen Sheline said she has visited Hanson’s cannabis store in Port Alberni and been impressed by how well it’s run.

“I’ve been to his location in Port Alberni quite a few times. I’m not really knowledgeable about cannabis, but they’ve been very knowledgeable and very helpful with any questions that I’ve had,” she said. “Mr. Hansen’s been here for many, many years and I like how he’s done business and I recommend the temporary use permit.”

Kim Foster suggested the town has waited long enough to welcome its first cannabis retailer.

“I was born and raised here in Ucluelet, so I understand we’re a little bit slower-paced here and we like to take things a little bit slower. I do think at this point it is time to grow a little bit and I think that a cannabis shop is definitely needed here in our community,” she said.

“A temporary permit is a great way just to see how it will affect the area within the community and whether or not that is the right place to have it. I think this should definitely be going forward and look at it three years from now and see if there’s anything that could be improved.”

Coun. Ian Kennington said he had concerns, but supported the temporary use permit being granted largely based on the feedback received during the public hearing. He added though that he would prefer to see permanent zoning granted in a more industrial area, rather than so close to the Village Green and downtown shops.

Hanson responded that his staff are trained to educate customers on where they can and can’t smoke.

“We do educate as we send people on their way,” Hanson said. “I can’t answer your question, other than we do our best to tell people where not to go.”

McEwen noted that the district’s bylaws prohibit the smoking or vaping of cannabis in any part of a municipal park, like the Village Green, Wild Pacific Trail and Big Beach as well as within eight metres of any doors or windows and customer service areas.