Nearly five years after the federal government legalized the recreational use of cannabis, Whistler has finally approved its first cannabis retail stores—though there is still no firm timeline for when they will open their doors.
On June 20, the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s (RMOW) mayor and council followed staff's recommendations and voted to approve four temporary use permit (TUP) cannabis retail applications: two in Whistler Village and one each in Function Junction and Creekside.
Companies with successful applications include This is Cannabis at 201-4293 Mountain Square in the Village Centre; Main Street THC Canada at 115-4368 Main Street in Village North; Spiritleaf Whistler at 103-2011 Innsbruck Drive in Creekside; and A Little Bud at 1-1050 Millar Creek Road in Function Junction.
Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said the approved applications demonstrated a solid commitment to the guidelines set by the RMOW.
“Many of the applications were strong; much of what we’re doing is balancing applications that have their own individual strengths and weaknesses,” Crompton said. “Ultimately we found that staff's recommendations were thorough, balanced and useful as we made the decision.”
Staff recommended the four companies based on evaluation criteria set out in the municipality’s Cannabis Retail Policy. The requirements included (but were not limited to) commitments to reconciliation and providing economic opportunities to the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations; provisions for employee housing; providing a living wage; support for local community organizations; and leadership on climate and sustainability action.
The RMOW gave the applicants a score based on how well they met the criteria, with applicants receiving a checkmark for fully achieving the requirements, a partial score for meeting some, or an X for failing to meet any satisfactorily. According to a report to council, the Whistler RCMP reviewed all the applications and raised no concerns other than a desire for more visible, at-grade locations which are easier to patrol and observe.
“In my view, the applications that were approved did a good job of delivering on what the community has very clearly stated is important to them through the [Official Community Plan] process,” Crompton said.
Of the 10 applications received over the one-month intake period from February 13 to March 13, the Village Centre proved to be the most popular with four applications, followed by two each in Village North, Creekside and Function Junction. The Nesters Plaza permit area received no applications.
Some of the commitments to the criteria from companies included revenue-sharing arrangements with local community groups and First Nations. Successful applicant This is Cannabis, for example, committed to donating two per cent of top-line revenue annually to the Squamish and Lil’wat Nation development corporations.
Some applicants who did not receive staff endorsements felt that the grading criteria and application process had significant errors, and argued that the RMOW should have been more transparent.
Seed & Stone Cannabis founder Vikram Sachdeva said staff's evaluation criteria didn’t fully consider the company's track record across the province and its relationships with First Nations.
“To RMOW staff’s credit, they had come up with detailed evaluation criteria, but we feel that those criteria do not capture our operational track record of having seven licences and our First Nation relationship, and the efforts that have gone into selecting the ideal location based on ‘on the ground’ community needs and community engagement were not considered,” Sachdeva said in an emailed statement.
“We believe that these are the demonstrated aspects that capture the applicant’s potential to act in the interests of the community once approved rather than just the promises.”
Inspired Cannabis Company owner Jesse Dhami said he felt there were inconsistencies in staff's conduct with applicants and a lack of transparency in the TUP process, and added that the RMOW should have let owners present their applications in-person to mayor and council to give them an idea of the people behind the businesses, a practice he said is common in most municipalities in the province.
“You need to have the applicants present to the council,” Dhami said. “I think it's really quite an important thing, instead of having a written package, to really get a flavour of the applicants, who are they, what's behind them.”
Crompton stood by the RMOW’s process, saying staff did a terrific job and that it was “a very even playing field” for all the applicants.
When it came down to voting on the specific TUP applications, Councillor Ralph Forsyth stood out as the sole voice of opposition, voting against every proposed cannabis shop.
Forsyth said he didn’t buy into the arguments of “weed tourism;” didn’t see any benefits for families; and highlighted the lack of revenue the municipality receives directly from the cannabis sales, as those go to other levels of government.
“Deep in my heart, I could care less if there's a weed store in Whistler. You can have it mailed to your house, so I don't see any need for it,” Forsyth said. “And then the nail in the coffin or the end of the roach is that there is absolutely no benefit to the community; the RMOW receives no tax money.”
When it came time to approve the Spiritleaf application, Coun. Jessie Morden put forward a motion to approve an application from Creekside Cannabis instead, because it was the only locally-owned store of all the applications received. The motion failed in a narrow 4-3 vote, with Couns. Arthur De Jong, Jeff Murl, Cathy Jewett and Ralph Forsyth opposed. Spiritleaf’s application passed, with Morden and Forsyth opposed.
Now that they have the municipal go-ahead, the retailers must obtain provincial licencing and some minor permits like business licences. RMOW planner John Chapman said the three-year TUPs would begin for the businesses once they open their doors.
Learn more at whistler.ca/cannabisretail.