District of Sparwood gateway banner. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Sparwood votes in favour of non-medical cannabis business opening in district

Public feedback was split down the middle, while councillors voted 5-2 in support

Sparwood has given the thumbs-up to a potential new non-medical cannabis business opening in the district, which would be Sparwood’s first.

Public feedback came back 50-50 on support vs. opposition to the proposed location of the store in Centennial Square, with most of those in opposition voicing concern about its proximity to a childcare facility.

With the public split down the middle, district councillors voted 5-2 to make a positive recommendation to the provincial regulator for liquor and cannabis sales, with only Councillors Baher and Christensen voted against.

In a presentation to the council as part of public hearings, Ryan Swayze, who is the general manager and director of the applicant, The Source Dispensary, which has been operating in Lethbridge for a year and a half, made his case that the new location was in line with both provincial and municipal regulations and posed no threat to the childcare facility next door.

“This will have no effect on childcare, will be great economically for the town, and it will create jobs,” said Swayze, who said six to eight jobs would be created with above-average wages.

Director of corporate services with the District of Sparwood, Lyle Hannan reported that of the public feedback received, those that were against the store were primarily concerned about proximity to the childcare facility, but noted that the proposal posed no conflict with existing municipal bylaws.

Manager of the child care centre in question, Danielle Charlebois said that from her point of view, the opening of a cannabis store did not compromise her obligations to provide for the health and well-being of the children under her care due to the regulations levied on cannabis businesses.

Prominent local businessman, Rick Pater also provided comment, saying that opening more local businesses in town was the best way to ensure more people shopped locally.

“We certainly want to keep all the business we can in Sparwood,” he said, arguing that those who leave town to shop for specific items tend to do all their other shopping at the same time.

During mayor and council discussion, those in favor of supporting the proposed business were lead by Coun. Cardozo, who said that “welcoming a new business into our community is a key part of economic development … especially when that business serves a demographic that is completely un-served.”

Coun. Saad agreed, remarking that cannabis businesses were “regulated to no end.”

Councillors Jarina and Bowen both said they had had reservations on what the operator of the childcare centre would say, and given she had said there were no issues, they were okay with the store location going ahead.

Councillors Christensen and Baher said the business itself was fine, but maintained that the location was problematic, and that other options would be preferable. Coun. Christensen referred to a 2018 survey of 506 local respondents where 75 per cent indicated support for minimum distances between cannabis businesses and certain other locations such as child care, schools, hospitals and places of worship.

The zoning of Centennial Square – C1 – allows for both child care facilities and cannabis businesses.

Mayor Wilks voted for the proposal, saying that given cannabis was legal, the proposal was in line with regulations and Sparwood had few geographic options for where a cannabis business could operate, it was a sound location.

Mayor and council voted 5-2 to make a recommendation to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch in support of The Source Dispensary’s cannabis retail store license application. A decision will be made by the regulator at a later date.

READ MORE: Permits down, value up, vacancy up in District of Sparwood

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