A Sidney councillor accused her colleagues of sacrificing public health for economic motives as the municipality opened the door for additional cannabis retail locations on Beacon Avenue, the community’s premier shopping street.
The public also heard Monday, Oct. 5 that the municipality has spent almost $40,000 in a legal dispute with a cannabis business preparing to open its doors on Beacon on Nov. 1.
Coun. Terri O’Keeffe levelled that charge as council meeting as committee voted 6-1 in favour of rescinding a resolution that would have prohibited cannabis stores on Beacon Avenue.
“To me, we are sending the message that economic benefit is more important than the health and well-being of youth in our community,” she said.
Councillors considered the issue one week after signalling their support for plans by the business formerly known as Happy Buddhas Cannabis to open its doors in the 2400-block of Beacon Avenue. While a vote in favour of maintaining the prohibition would not have impacted the business’ status, O’Keeffe was pushing for a resolution that would have confirmed a non-conforming use.
O’Keeffe pointed to input from Vancouver Island Health Authority, which she described as public health officials cautioning against “pursuing economic gain from the legalization of non-medical cannabis.”
The promotion and protection of public health should remain council’s primary concern, she said.“And based on that, I don’t think we should not be entertaining any further cannabis stores on Beacon,” she said.
She also accused staff of misrepresenting council’s position.
“I want to comment on something in the staff report that suggests that the only concern that council had in regards to cannabis stores on Beacon was the windows (issue),” she said. “There was significant concern from several members of council about the health impacts on youth as outlined by Island Health.”
She also questioned language from staff that “suggested” cannabis should be treated in same manner as alcohol. “However, we have very clear guidelines from health authorities that it should be treated differently,” she said.
O’Keeffe said rescinding the motion would rob the municipality of the means to regulate cannabis. In fact, O’Keeffe said Sidney should also look into ways to mitigate the harms of alcohol as well as tobacco, including buffer zones.
O’Keeffe’s concerns did not find support around the council table, including from voices like Coun. Chad Rintoul, who previously expressed reservations.
“To Coun. O’Keeffe, I would suggest that the horse is out of the barn,” he said. “I’m not comfortable with seeing us put one vendor in a position of having a monopoly potentially. Our job is not to regulate the business environment, but to create opportunities for business in that sense.”
Coun. Peter Wainwright agreed and warned his colleagues of protracting the debate around cannabis on Beacon Avenue against the backdrop of previous public input and the municipality’s legal fight with the business formerly known as Happy Buddha Cannabis.
“Our legal fees were about $38,000 on the court case over this cannabis retail on Beacon,” he said. “By all means, let’s make a zoning bylaw amendment that is going to require to spend money on a public hearing and advertising on a public hearing and all of the staff time, because we know that that is going to be totally different from the decision we made, what, just a week ago? Can you say waste of money? It’s not about whether Island Health’s advice is worth listening to or not. It’s about whether it’s appropriate to waste money on something we just decided.”
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