Possible retail cannabis store in the Houston Mall

Houston residents will soon have a chance to have their say in plans to open a retail cannabis store in the Houston Mall, a first for the community.

The District of Houston council July 21 gave the go-ahead to solicit opinion, the first step toward deciding on a licencing application made by Rural Leaf Ltd. which opened its first retail location last fall in Smithers.

“Council has directed staff to arrange for public consultation to occur,” said District Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Pinchbeck.

“Public notice will be issued online and in the paper outlining how residents can participate and submit feedback on the proposal to the District prior to the District considering whether to support or deny the application.”

Following the legalization of cannabis by the federal government, the District in 2018 permitted the location of cannabis retail stores in the downtown core and followed that with a policy for reviewing licence applications referred to the District by the province.

Rural Leaf’s chosen location is in a unit right beside the mall’s Twelfth Street entrance, immediately beside the Canada Post outlet and across from the provincial liquor store.

“[District] staff do not foresee any significant impacts to traffic, access, or parking as a result of this application,” Pinchbeck noted in a four-page memo to council.

“The location near the existing BC Liquor Store and the post office further reduce security risks at this location as these areas have their own existing security protocols in place which deter criminal activity.”

Cannabis store employees do have to undergo a security clearance and area required to notify provincial regulators if they are arrested or charged for designated offences.

In addition to seeking public comment and opinion, council does have the option of requesting Rural Leaf officials to a meeting to speak to their application.

With plans for seeking public opinion in hand, Pinchbeck did not recommend a public hearing or a referendum, indicating a referendum would cost $$10,000 and involve significant staff time to organize.

Provincial regulators must receive the approval of the District prior to issuing a retail licence and those regulators are now assessing the application, something that includes persons associated with the retail store proposal.

One of the Rural Leaf partners, Alfred Shaefer, said expanding from Smithers into Houston is a natural extension to serve its customer base.

“It is much nicer to be able to go down to the mall as opposed to driving all the way to Smithers for legal cannabis,” he said. “Houston is also close to home for us and we would rather expand locally than head off to parts unknown.”

Depending upon the timing of licensing procedures, he’s tagged mid-October as a target opening date.

Cannabis outlets are obligated to buy their product from the provincial B.C. liquor and cannabis distribution centre.

Shaefer anticipates an indigenous-owned cultivation facility now under development in Burns Lake will be a supplier.

“Nations Cannabis is on track to become a federally-licensed producer and we will definitely be stocking up on their products once they hit the market,” he said, adding that Rural Leaf will buy from any other legal producer in the northwest.

Rural Leaf estimates it will need up to four employees in Houston.

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