The application for the establishment of a third cannabis retail store in the Swift Current downtown business area was approved during a regular council meeting, May 30.
Council members accepted the recommendation from City administration that the application by The Grass Hut Cannabis Company complies with the zoning bylaw’s discretionary use criteria.
Several councillors emphasized all business applications need to be treated in the same manner in accordance with zoning bylaw requirements, regardless of the nature of the business. However, one council member abstained from the vote as a nod to concerns expressed by residents about the opening of a third cannabis store in Swift Current.
Councillor Ryan Plewis indicated during the discussion that he was going to vote “confidently” in favour of the application as a result of the recommendation from City administration.
“This can be considered a controversial issue,” he said. “I don’t find it so. I’m not saying I want to take a stand in terms of the benefits of cannabis or not. I’m looking at this from the perspective of I’m a business owner myself.”
He emphasized the importance of a review process that gives businesses confidence to apply with a clear understanding of what the rules are and how they will be applied.
“So as a business owner, when I operate in the community, I want to know what the rules are and I want to see the rules communicated in a clear way,” he said. “And then I want to be able to take my business plan, match it up against those rules, and decide whether or not I think I’ll be successful in getting a permit or whether I’m going to be successful in being able to apply for a zoning discretionary use. Now, in this case we have the criteria. They were set out. This particular business obviously compared their business plan against the criteria. Our administration, which done a very professional job of this, tells us that all boxes are checked. So they’ve met all the criteria.”
He noted that these decisions about a discretionary use under the City’s zoning bylaw cannot be based on personal feelings about issues related to cannabis retail stores.
“I’m not really looking at what the business is and I don’t think it’s put on us to look at what the business is,” he said. “This is not a decision about whether or not we agree about a particular business or whether another location is valid or not. This is a zoning decision for the City to make a decision on. It’s nothing else. The decision about whether this is a legal business was made at a level that does not involve the City. The decision about whether this is something that you want to participate in is something that you make in your household before you walk into a store or you don’t walk into a store. There’s plenty of opportunity for people to make their own decisions and make their own moral pathways through this.”
He added that if this was any other type of business, for example the opening of another car dealership in the city, then no consideration would be given to whether there are not already enough dealerships in the community.
His position on this matter was supported by several other council members. Councillor Ryan Switzer said the recommendation from City administration was clear. Councillor Tom Christiansen felt the free market will determine how many cannabis stores are economically feasible in the city.
“I won’t debate the merits of whether it should have been legalized or not,” he said. “It has been legalized. I’m a free enterprise guy and quite honestly, the citizens will vote with their wallet whether we can have three or two or one. So I’ll leave it up to their good judgement.”
Councillor John Wall had some mixed feelings about whether there should be another cannabis store in the community, but he also felt it was not the City’s responsibility to make that decision.
“Although I don’t feel very comfortable with another store in this type of an area, however said that, I don’t think it’s up to the City to choose winners or losers,” he said. “So I will be supporting this motion.”
This third cannabis store will be locally owned, and Councillor Leanne Tuntland-Wiebe felt it would have been easier to support if it was one of the initial applications. She acknowledged that cannabis has been legalized, but felt the need to abstain from the vote due to the concerns she heard from residents.
“I don’t think the residents of Swift Current or the taxpayers are gaining anything by this, and all the people that have talked to me don’t support a third store in Swift Current,” she said. “I recognize the value of medicinal cannabis when it’s prescribed. I have nothing against that. It’s used for many things. I’m just going with the residents that I’ve heard from that don’t wish to have a third one here. So I’ll be abstaining from the vote.”
The proposed cannabis retail store will be located at 42D Central Avenue North in a small vacant retail space within the old Royal Bank of Canada building, which is a prominent historic landmark on Central Avenue North.
The City of Swift Current approved an amendment to the zoning bylaws in 2018 to clearly delineate the areas where cannabis retail stores are allowed to operate. It is a discretionary use within the DC2-C1 Direct Control Central D