Two pot shops have cleared one of the hurdles on the path to opening in New West.
New Westminster city council held public hearings on Monday night related to two cannabis shops proposed in the city, Muse Cannabis at 532 Sixth St. and Westcanna at 710 12th St. Following the public hearing, council approved zoning amendment bylaws for both locations.
At Monday’s public hearing, about a dozen residents from both neighbourhoods spoke about the proposed cannabis stores, with most opponents citing concerns about exposing children to cannabis.
Sandra Lum, who lives directly behind the 12th Street location, voiced concerns about increased traffic and parking issues in the alley by the shop and negative impacts on children.
“I am not against it. I just think there is a time and a place. This is not the place,” Lum said. “There are too many children, too many schools. Too many daycares. Too many young people in the alleyway playing.”
Christopher Bell said there has been a “complete absence” of consultation with neighbours living around the proposed cannabis shop locations. He suggested the city pause the process so can meet with residents to ensure their concerns – real or irrational – are addressed.
New West resident Michael Johnstone said he’s “not the biggest weed guy” but he does make a 40-kilometre round-trip trek to Vancouver to buy marijuana that he casually smokes at home with his 65-year-old mom. While people think that bringing in one or two weed stores is going to ruin the community, Johnstone said people who buy and smoke weed aren’t breaking into buildings or cars.
“I can promise you people it’s not going to bring a whole bunch of crime to New Westminster,” he said. “It has been here for years.”
Allowing weed stores to open in New West isn’t going to ruin the community, Johnstone said.
“We have a mayor that wrestles. We have a crosswalk that is rainbow. We have everything we need. We need a weed store,” he said. “I can assure you guys it’s not going to turn this place into the worst place.”
Coun. Patrick Johnstone (no relation to the speaker) said he appreciates that some people feel very nervous about the change that’s happening across the country.
“This isn’t something that is going to stop at our border. This is something that is going to be happening across the region,” he said. “It is a legal product.”
Coun. Mary Trentadue said she’s confident the regulations for the store owners are pretty strong and place a lot of responsibility on them regarding their customers and what occurs inside and outside their stores. Because these businesses are going to be the first in New West, she said there is going to be a fair amount of eyes on them to make sure they do follow the rules.
“I think having businesses like this out on main streets where people are walking by is actually helpful to the businesses and keeps an eye on it,” she said. “I don’t want to see these kind of businesses hidden in back alleys and in industrial areas where they are not safe.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote said he appreciates concerns related to the new type of business operating in the city. He said it was the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis and it’s the city’s responsibility to regulate that legal substance in the community.
“The closest framework we found is how we regulate and monitor liquor stores. I do recognize there are differences, but there are also a lot of similarities there,” he said. “In the end, I think we did develop a very robust framework.”
The city received 22 applications for cannabis retail stores, ranked the applications and selected five proposals for different commercial areas for consideration. Public hearings for the other three applications that made the cut will be scheduled when the city receives the results of their financial integrity and security program checks from the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.
While council approved the two applications at Monday’s council meeting, there’s still a series of steps that applications must complete before the shops open, including finalizing the process with the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, finalizing the business licence, obtaining building permits for any tenant improvements, ordering stock and hiring staff.