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VOTED AGAINST – Coun. Betty Irwin said she wanted to ‘register (her) unhappiness with the way this has gone.’ Inset Jeff O'Farrell

Cannabis sales to be curtailed to Marwell

It appears Marwell will serve as the site for the first legal cannabis warehouse and retail outlet to be run by the Yukon government.

By Stephanie Waddell on February 27, 2018

It appears Marwell will serve as the site for the first legal cannabis warehouse and retail outlet to be run by the Yukon government.

In a 6-1 vote Monday night, city council passed the final two readings of a bylaw restricting the retail sale of cannabis to that neighbourhood.

It was stressed, however, that the restriction is only for now – and is likely to change.

Coun. Betty Irwin was the only member of council to vote against the bylaw, stating she wanted to “register my unhappiness with the way this has gone.”

It’s the territory that will oversee regulations when dried cannabis is legalized by the federal government this summer or early fall.

Territorial legislation is anticipated to be passed during the spring sitting of the legislature, which will begin early Thursday afternoon.

The majority Liberal government has already stated its intention for a phased-in approach that will see it as the sole legal retailer in the first phase.

Private sales are set to be considered in the future. The government has not specified a date.

Irwin argued the Marwell area, accessible via Industrial Road and Tlingit Street, isn’t suitable for sales.

She said she’s not sure why the territory found it “imperative” that the warehouse and retail location be in the same neighbourhood.

The liquor store’s current location downtown was selected due to its accessibility, while the warehouse is in Marwell, Irwin pointed out.

She described the largely industrial Marwell neighbourhood as “probably the worst possible location” before raising her hand against second and third readings.

Coun. Rob Fendrick attended the session by conference call. He also cited “some misgivings” on the proposed location.

Ultimately, Fendrick voted in favour of the final two readings. He said he hopes further phases of implementation happen quickly to make the product more widely available.

It was Mayor Dan Curtis who put forward assurances that this is just one step in a process that will take years to play out.

“There’s many, many steps to this new world,” Curtis said.

He also made sure residents are aware that city buses go through Marwell, thus providing access.

In doing so, Curtis was addressing a concern that has continued to come up from residents concerned about convenience and accessibility.

Prior to Monday night’s vote, Jeff O’Farrell, who chairs the city’s internal working group on cannabis, also stressed that this is only a first step.

More options will be considered when private retail sales of cannabis are looked at in the future, he noted.

“There’s a lot more to come,” O’Farrell said in an interview Monday morning.

The city’s role around the legalization of cannabis is focused on bylaws around zoning, and eventually business licences and the like.

For this first phase, when the territory will be the sole retailer, Marwell was put forward as the only neighbourhood where pot will be sold.

Other locations will be considered when private retail sales are looked at, O’Farrell stressed.

The proposal for Marwell, he explained, came about from dialogue between the city and territory in looking at the legalization of cannabis.

It became clear early on in those discussions that the territory wanted a location that could have a warehouse and retail store.

For the city, that meant looking at all the zones that exist.

It’s the mixed use commercial/industrial zone that allows for available retail and warehousing in both Marwell and the Burns Road area, near Hillcrest.

As O’Farrell noted though, where Burns Road meets the Alaska Highway is an uncontrolled intersection. Thus, there were concerns around the access and egress to potential locations there.

Marwell, meanwhile, is an established commercial area, away from schools, parks and playgrounds with access to transit, he noted.

The city has been criticized by residents who have called for downtown areas to be zoned for cannabis sales, highlighting the importance of convenience, accessibility and such.

It’s also been highlighted that there are already liquor sales and the like located close to schools and parks.

O’Farrell, however, noted the work to permit private retailers in the future will include looking at regulations aimed at buffering and keeping shops from being clustered together.

That is part of the work that has yet to be done.

Work will continue on zoning and business licensing.

Even after the Yukon government authorizes private sales, O’Farrell said, there will be further legislation to consider in years to come.

Legislation enabling the sale of edibles, for example, will eventually open the door for cannabis cafés that the city will have to consider zoning for.

As legislation is rolled out in the coming years, the city will look at how to deal with zoning and the like.

O’Farrell said the internal working group is expected to continue its work for years to come.

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