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FORT ST. JOHN B.C.– Councillors chose a direction for the future of the budding cannabis business in Fort St John that will let the retail sector grow in Fort St. John. Members voted to allow the shops in all commercial zones in the city on Monday night.

Three zoning options were presented for the next steps of cannabis retail. Currently, retail stores selling cannabis are limited to C2 zoning, or the downtown core.

Council voted for the third option, which includes expanding cannabis retail to all zones except residential neighborhoods, including the downtown core, highway-facing commercial properties, and service commercial (or zones  C2, C3, and C4.)

The other options were to either keep cannabis retail entirely within the C2 zone or expand cannabis retail to zones C2 and C3 only. Previous restrictions, including a 200 meter distance between cannabis retail and schools and a 100 meter distance from parks, will remain in place. 

The contentious issue in council was not the placement of cannabis in the city—-it was the placement of retail.

Mayor Lori Ackerman, who opposed the resolution to expand cannabis to zones 3 and 4, was staunchly against allowing any movement of retail out of the downtown core. 

“I don’t think it’s about cannabis. Period. I think it’s about retail,” she said in the meeting. “Once you open the barn doors and the horses get out, you’re going to have a problem.”

Other municipalities have seen similar unfortunate transformations. Mayor Ackerman warned of turning into “a Prince George with a dead downtown.”

Several other councilors, though, called this an unnecessary limit on local business and part of a larger conversation that did not relate to the matter at hand.

“It feels like we’re smothering,” Councillor Lilia Hansen said.

City staff had received 47 inquiries about potential cannabis retail shop. Limiting that influx to the smaller C2 zone, according to other council members, means limited space and limited opportunities for businesses.

Councillor Tony Zabinsky agreed. “I don’t want to sit down and hold our economic drivers for our businesses,” he said. “But at the same time, we are stifling.” 

The council passed a resolution to ask staff to draw up a change to the zoning regulations. A hearing will be scheduled to receive public feedback on the changes.

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Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a news reporter for EnergeticCity.ca who recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a bachelor of arts in Media + Communications. She was born and raised just outside of Fort St. John. She began reporting for her university’s student newspaper and interned with Ottawa Life Magazine where she developed a passion for asking questions, telling stories, and the written word. In her free time, you can find her drinking coffee, snowboarding, or reading novels.