By Laura Keil

Only one public comment was made at an online public hearing January 26th, 2021 for a proposed cannabis store in downtown Valemount.

The Village of Valemount held a public hearing to get feedback prior to making a recommendation to the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, which has the final say on cannabis store permits.

The proposed storeâ€pitched by Rural Leaf Ltd., whose three business partners who already own two cannabis stores in northern BCâ€would be located at 1201 5th Ave, next to Unique Boutique Salon & Spa, in the small unit formerly occupied by Robson Valley Internet.

In the one letter submitted to the hearing, Valemount resident Stefanie Han questioned the new business’ central location and voiced concern about the potential impacts of a cannabis store on the community.

“What about the local residentsâ€specifically Valemount’s youth and young adultsâ€who are at most risk? Is a location for a cannabis store with easy access and in the middle of our village in plain view good for our local population? What kind of people will this store attract?”

She said the central location might lead to more people trying cannabis who might not otherwise, and she hypothesized about the impact on drug users and the health care system.

Proponent Arthur Schaefer, co-owner of Rural Leaf Ltd, said the concerns in the letter were familiar and were echoed at the public hearing in Houston prior to opening their store there. He said selling legal cannabisâ€as opposed to illegalâ€is a “whole different ball game” and often has the opposite effect in the community with regard to the letter’s concerns.

“It’s not how it is with the black market,” he said. “We have to be extremely transparentâ€everything we do, all our business dealings. And we’re inspected regularly, to ensure that we’re following all the rules that are set out for us. We’re just trying to operate in the community and be a positive alternative source within the community.”

Schaefer said by purchasing through a store, customers not only access Health Canada-regulated, purity-tested cannabis, they also benefit from the knowledge of the salesperson in the specific effects of different strains.

Councillor Hollie Blanchette asked Schaefer what people would see when they looked at the storefront from 5th avenue.

“You won’t be able to see inside the store,” Schaefer said. “We put up 1-way stickers, so there’s usually some kind of an image “¦ we have a picture of our local mountain (in Smithers) and we’re going to do something very similar in Valemount. That’s basically all you’ll see from the outside.”

Councillor Donnie MacLean asked how many jobs would be created and Schaefer said 3-4, with two managers and the other jobs beginning at minimum wage. He added all employees go through a security screening.

Next steps
Staff noted that Council’s positive support does not necessarily mean the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) will issue a license, as applications must still meet all their other requirements.

Cannabis retail stores were introduced as a permitted use in multiple commercial zones in Valemount in August 2019 after lengthy public consultation, including an online survey, completed by 144 people, and an open house.

The Zoning Bylaw forbids cannabis retail stores from operating within 200 metres of a school or 100 metres of various locations where children gather. Council set a maximum of two retail cannabis stores in Valemount.

The proposed location at 1201 5th Avenue is zoned C1 central commercial which permits retail cannabis stores and does not fall in an exclusionary zone.

The Decision
Staff recommended supporting the application.

“Staff believes that this is an opportunity to diversify our local economy and recommends that council provide a positive recommendation to the LCR before this application,” Village Planner Megan Vincente said.

At the Council meeting following the public hearing, Council voted in support of the cannabis store application.

In an interview with the Goat in mid-January, Schaefer said, if successful with their application, they hoped to have the store up and running by this summer.