(pixabay)

Agassiz residents want pot shops, but not near schools

A public survey showed 61 per cent of participants were in favour of retail cannabis in the district

Kent residents are on the fence about where businesses should be able to sell pot in the district, but one thing is clear — they don’t want it anywhere near schools.

The results of a public survey on retail sales of cannabis were presented to the District of Kent council Monday (Jan. 28), which showed that a majority participants were in favour allowing pot sales in the district.

In total, 148 people participated in the survey, which ran from October to December of last year.

In general, most people were fairly supportive of pot stores in the district and wanted them to have flexibility. Although half of the participants were unlikely to or would never purchase recreational pot, just over 60 per cent wanted the stores in the district.

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Participants were divided in even thirds on whether the number of pot shops should be restricted, not restricted or just banned. More than half didn’t want to restrict operating hours more than the government legislated hours of 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

But where those stores should go was a bigger problem.

In the write in section of the survey, respondents were asked where appropriate places for retail cannabis stores would be — and no one location gained a majority of support.

Commercial areas, including the Agassiz townsite, and “nowhere” were the most popular locations for cannabis stores, being the only ones to get more than 20 write-ins. Other options included the east section of Pioneer Avenue, the outskirts of town, and inside liquor stores.

Where cannabis stores shouldn’t be allowed was more clear: 63 per cent of respondents felt stores should be a minimum distance from schools.

“One of the challenges with that is we have a high school right in the middle of the townsite,” director of development services Darcey Kohuch said during council.

District of Kent’s sample setback map for retail cannabis stores based on 100 metre and 150 metre distances from schools. (District of Kent)

District staff recommended that cannabis stores should be between 100 metres and 150 metres away from schools, and 150 metres away from child care centres. Survey participants wanted it further, with the median buffer being one kilometre, and the average exceeding three kilometres.

“Essentially, whether it’s 100 or 150 metres, the mid-block of Pioneer Avenue is out of the question with regards to having” a retail cannabis store, Kohuch said about setbacks. “It’ll be separated onto west and east Pioneer.”

Kohuch noted that the district already gets “lots of inquiries” about pot shops, and expected that if council kept close to the suggested setbacks, a store would open in Agassiz before long.

Councillor Stan Watchorn said that he wanted 200 metre setbacks from schools if it was approved, but Coun. Susan Spaeti said the suggested setbacks were fine for her.

“If it’s east Pioneer or west Pioneer, then it’s not close to the park, it’s not close to the school,” she said. “I felt that 100 metres would probably be sufficient.”

“If we go up to 200 (metres), that pretty much takes out all our commercial spots in the downtown,” she added. “I don’t want applications come to us in residential neighbourhoods. I think it’s safer in our commerical core.”

Staff also brought up business licence fees, suggesting anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000, with an added one-time permit fee of $1,500. This is on par with Chilliwack, Kamloops and Trail, all of whom have or are considering retail cannabis shops.

RELATED: Cannabis retail outlet proposed for plaza on Promontory

Business licences in the District of Kent average around $125, although they can go as low as $110 and sometimes higher than $500 for home based businesses that include accessory buildings. The proposed cannabis licences could be more than 10 times that amount.

“The increased fees are based on the assumption we will deal with some public concerns and complaints on these stores,” Kohuch said. “We feel there would be considerable staff time dealing with this type of licence.”

For mayor Sylvia Pranger, who said she was not in favour of the legalization of marijuana, even a $5,000 business licence is too low.

“I would prefer to see us stick with the same as Chilliwack” which has a $10,000 licence fee, she said. “Maybe it’s the only way we can get Chilliwack people to come and shop in Agassiz.

“The least we can do is put a lot of restrictions in place so we’re careful,” she added, noting she would prefer a provincially-run pot shop. “We are faced with dealing with the consequences.”

Coun. Kerstin Schwichtenberg, on the other hand, said council shouldn’t make cannabis sales more difficult than they need to be.

“I don’t think we should make this more complicated than selling alcohol,” Schwichtenberg said. “It is legal, and whether we agree or disagree with legalizing marijuana, it’s part of our community now, and I don’t think we should make it more complicated than alcohol purchases.”

Right now the District of Kent does not allow retail cannabis sales in the municipality. No decisions were made on whether that will change in the future.

Council asked district staff to bring forward more information on regulatory options for the district, including details on business licence fees from other municipalities, whether stores should be up for “spot-zoning” and how provincial regulations restrict cannabis operations already.

Cannabis in the District of Kent
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grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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