A sign on the door of Leaf Compassion informs customers that the business is closed until further notice. An application from the Leaf Compassion dispensary in Chemainus to reopen its store on Chemainus Street was denied by North Cowichan’s council on May 15. (Don Bodger/file)

North Cowichan rejects Chemainus pot store application

Considered too close to school, playgrounds

Leaf Compassion dispensary in Chemainus won’t be reopening; at least not in its former location at 9750 Chemainus Rd.

North Cowichan turned down its application at the council meeting on May 15 after staff recommended that it be rejected.

In January, council established criteria for the municipality to use when considering applications for cannabis retail stores, including that they must be a minimum of 600 metres from schools, playgrounds and places where children and youth gather.

RELATED STORY: NORTH COWICHAN WILL NOW START PROCESSING RETAIL CANNABIS APPLICATIONS

A staff report indicated that 9750 Chemainus Rd. is within 600 metres of the closed St. Joseph’s School and its playground, Chemainus Heritage Pocket Park, Chemainus Waterwheel Park and the Chemainus Athletic Sportsfield Park.

“The potential community impact is considered significant given the proposed location is en route to locations frequented by youth and is in proximity to public and family-oriented properties,” the report stated.

“Staff cannot recommend support of this application because it is inconsistent with council’s adopted policy.”

But Mayor Al Siebring pointed out that the municipality is in the process of considering an application for a retail pot store in the Cowichan Commons from the province’s Liquor Distribution Branch and, although it has many of the same issues as Leaf Compassion’s application, staff recommended it be given the green light.

RELATED STORY: NORTH COWICHAN WANTS TO CONSIDER TWO CANNABIS STORES PROPOSED FOR COWICHAN COMMONS AT THE SAME TIME

“[Cowichan Commons] is also within 600 metres of a school and a playground so the same arguments can be made here,” he said.

“To say the Chemainus location is en route to locations frequented by children is true of any place in Chemainus and I see that as no basis to deny this application. I have to shake my head a little.”

Coun. Christopher Justice also said he was surprised by the staff recommendation to reject the application after recommending that the LDB application be accepted.

“How much of this is about not conforming to the criteria, or about the letter we received from the RCMP?” he asked.

The Leaf Compassion Chemainus outlet, which first opened almost four years ago at that location, was raided by police and bylaw officers twice over that time for operating without a business licence, and charges were laid for marijuana possession and trafficking after the first raid in 2017.

RELATED STORY: POLICE RAID LEAF COMPASSION DISPENSARY IN CHEMAINUS

A letter from Insp. Chris Bear, head of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, said the proposed location is in close proximity to St. Joseph’s School, which is a concern to the RCMP.

“The legalization of cannabis was intended to stop cannabis from getting into the hands of youth,” Bear said.

Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s director of planning, said the staff’s recommendation was based entirely on council’s policy on pot stores.

He said the context is different between the applications for Cowichan Commons and Chemainus Road.

“Cowichan Commons is a commercial location, the Trans Canada Highway is a big barrier between the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre (where youth gather) and that location, and it’s a roundabout route between Cowichan Commons and Drinkwater Elementary School,” he said.

“Staff do feel an obligation to follow council’s policy as best we can, but there are other circumstances to consider here. But if council feels we’re being excessive, we could deal with these applications like all other commercial applications without applying the criteria.”

Coun. Kate Marsh said council was clear in establishing the criteria that it didn’t want pot shops within 600 metres of schools, parks and playgrounds and it should stick to the rules it established.

“There are other places in Chemainus where this store can go,” she said.

Coun. Rob Douglas agreed, stating that council should stick to its policy and reject the application.

Coun. Rosalie Sawrie also supported staff’s recommendation.

“We voted in favour of this policy and we should stand by it, even if it’s considered by some to be too strict,” she said.

The application was rejected, with Siebring and Justice opposed.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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