Members of council pushed back against public concerns that the approval of a second retail cannabis outlet would change Sidney for the worse.
“When I read and listened to the views of residents and businesses, I learned that the large majority of residents are in favour or certainly accept retail cannabis in downtown Sidney,” said Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith as council recommended the approval of a retail licence for Buds Cannabis, with Coun. Terri O’Keeffe opposed.
The business’s plans to open a store in the 9700-block of Second Street rests with the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, but council’s vote sends an important signal.
Councillors issued their recommendation after having received 32 submissions with supporters outweighing opponents of the application. If supporters praised the applicant’s qualities as entrepreneurs and the possibility of improved access to cannabis, opponents often expressed the fear Sidney would become a “pot haven.”
McNeil-Smith questioned this argument. Buds Cannabis would only be the second business of its kind to operate in downtown Sidney, home to some 375 licensed businesses.
“I don’t see it being significant to our community and quite frankly, I don’t think council should be the judge of whether a particular type of business receives a business licence through this application process,” he said. He later acknowledged council would have to consider other factors if Sidney were to receive “numerous future applications.”
McNeil-Smith pointed out that over a dozen cannabis retail locations including two in Central Saanich currently operate in Greater Victoria.
“Are communities thinking less of their communities or their towns because of cannabis locations? I don’t believe so. And I don’t believe cannabis retail in Sidney is going to be of concern to the image of the town.”
He also addressed public safety concerns. “When it was illegal and when it was a crime, I can appreciate that people had concerns over security or crime or unsavoury behaviour, but that is not what is transpiring now that cannabis has been legal for over two years in Canada and in our communities,” he said.
Coun. Sara Duncan said public concerns do not address the application itself. “I wish we could get past this as a society, knowing that more people died of fentanyl overdoses last year than of COVID,” she said. “I wish people could understand what the real problems are, what the real dangers are, and not take it out on a mitigation measure.”
Coun. O’Keeffe acknowledged these aspects, but also reminded her colleagues that cannabis is not an “innocuous” substance, pointing to appeals by Island Health that municipalities must play their part in the finding the right balance between providing access without normalizing cannabis use.
“When we reach out to residents and we ask them to provide their views, I put a great amount of focus on those from Sidney who are opposed, especially many of those who were in the immediate area,” she said.
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