Salt Spring too small for two cannabis stores, proposed location inappropriate, say residents, council

| David Brown

A BC court has ruled that a community’s rejection of a retail cannabis licence was not unreasonable following an appeal by the retail applicant. 

The appeal was before the Supreme Court of BC in relation to a 2022 application for a cannabis store to operate with a provincial licence in the Village of Ganges on Salt Spring Island.

In a town hall meeting on June 22, 2023, the applicant, Canna Northwest Enterprises Inc., had their application denied by the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee (LTC) based on its location’s proximity to schools, a public library, and a public park.

The applicant appealed the decision, seeking a judicial review with the court, arguing the decision was unreasonable and was based on protecting another previously approved cannabis store. 

Several attendees at the town hall meeting expressed concern with both the location of the proposed store and concern that the small community did not need more than one cannabis store. Another store, The Harvest Moon, had been approved by the LTC in April 2020 and is located about one kilometre from the new applicant. Employees of The Harvest Moon spoke out against the new application in the town hall alongside other community members.

In 2021, Salt Spring Island’s population was listed as about 12,000.

The Licensed Retail Cannabis Council of BC (LRCCBC) also provided a submission to the LTC, which, while not taking a specific position on the application, referred to factors such as the inability of regulated retailers to differentiate themselves through pricing or marketing; the problem of excess concentration of retail operations in given locations; and “exceptionally low” profit margins.

The location of the proposed store was previously home to an unlicensed cannabis store: in 2019, Leaf Compassion Cannabis applied for a licence. At the time, there was no opposition to the location by the community, with the local Advisory Planning Commission recommending that the LTC support the application. 

However, once the supported application was forwarded to the provincial government for approval, the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) did not approve the licence. Leaf Compassion’s website now redirects to an unregulated online cannabis store called Barely Legal.

Applications for retail cannabis licences in BC must be approved by both the province and the municipality. 

Arguing for the licence, the applicant’s principal, Mr. Chouinard, submitted a petition to the LTC in support of the application with 90 signatures. Chouinard argued that he was not made aware of concerns regarding location prior to the town hall meeting, was not given notice that the application would be discussed during the town hall, and was not given a meaningful opportunity during the meeting to address the issue of location.

The ruling Justice in the appeal countered these points, noting that concerns with the location had been communicated to the applicant, and that he had had the opportunity to attend any town halls where his application was discussed. 

In his final ruling, Justice A. Saunders ruled that the council’s denial of the application was not unreasonable, and the petitioner was not deprived of procedural fairness.

Featured image via Google Maps