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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Council decided not to move forward with changes to the cannabis retail zoning bylaw, meaning the stores will stay in the downtown core.

Council has been monitoring the entry of cannabis stores and the impacts on the city since legalization in October 2018. City staff presented these findings to council at a Committee of the Whole Meeting on Monday.

Councillor Byron Stewart made a motion for council to direct staff to make changes to the bylaw.

“I don’t see any issue in expanding the zoning for this retail sector within the community,” said Stewart.

The motion was defeated due to a tie. Councillors Byron Stewart,  Lilia Hansen, and Gord Klassen voted in favour, while Mayor Lori Ackerman, Jim Lequiere and Tony Zabinsky were opposed.

Councillor Trevor Bolin was absent from the meeting.

“We’re putting a lot of money into our downtown, and that’s where I think these small [retailers] need to stay,” said Ackerman.

During the COW meeting, Ackerman said there seemed to be confusion between council and staff as they were directed to look into business license fees.

“I believe at that time, Dawson Creek was looking at a $2,500 business license fee because of the impact that it was going to have on staff and rolling things out,” said Ackerman.

“We thought that a cannabis retail store would be a cannabis retail store, not much different than shoes. The business license fee would be status quo. We weren’t looking at zoning.”

Staff found that there was no additional time needed to administer the business licensing for the cannabis stores compared to other retailers.

City planner Charlene Jackson says stores have to wait up to 18 months for approval on their license while paying rent on their property. She adds it “cratered” a third private cannabis retailer.

The January 10th report that stakeholder groups, RCMP, Fire/Protective Services, and School District 60, were consulted and reported no issues related to retail cannabis.

Despite no impacts from cannabis retail reported from the stakeholder groups, council chose to receive the report as information.

Based on public feedback in 2018, it was recommended that stores only be permitted in the downtown core, and service and general commercial zones. However, council adopted the zoning bylaw only allowing stores to operate in the downtown core, which is currently in place.

Staff sought direction on amendments to the zoning bylaw to expand retail cannabis operations to the originally recommended zones.

“Opening up the C-3 and C-4 commercial zones for Cannabis Retail sales may help promote economic growth in our community by way of new storefronts and allow Cannabis Retail business entrepreneurs the ability to explore more locations based on the market and desire to provide access to Cannabis retail sales within the City,” said  Jackson in the report.

Jackson told council that interest in retail cannabis in the city disappeared after it was consolidated to just the downtown core.

“There’s a lot of property owners in other areas that were interested in opening stores and they couldn’t do so because of the C-2 zoning restriction,” said Jackson.

There are three active cannabis retail stores within the City’s downtown core: Cannabis Corner, The Hive, and the BC Cannabis Store

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