The opening of some Calgary cannabis stores by the Oct. 17 legalization date are almost certain to be considerably delayed due to a “surge” of appeals that are taxing city resources.
Over the past month, the Calgary subdivision and development appeal board (SDAB) has agreed to hear 78 appeals targeting city approvals or refusals of pot shop applications.
“It received 119 appeals in total last year, so this is quite a volume,” said Jeremy Fraser, manager of quasi-judicial boards of which the board is one.
“We’ve received quite a surge of appeals in the past month.”
The SDAB has only this week begun hearing appeals.
It’s highly unlikely all those appeals will be heard by Oct. 17 when recreational marijuana legalization comes into effect, along with lawful retailing of the drug, said Fraser.
“I’m not sure if that’s going to be achievable,” he said. “It’ll take the board some time to get through the caseload. They have to set aside enough time to hear the appeals, the witnesses and their legal counsel.”
City officials have nearly completed their review of 266 cannabis shop applications and as of last week had approved 117 of them, while 110 have been rejected under proximity criteria that they were too close to other proposed pot stores, schools, playgrounds, hospitals or other sensitive amenities.
Of those, dozens have been appealed, which can be done within 21 days of the city’s initial ruling approving or refusing their locations.
Both sides argue their case before panels of five to seven board members from a full agency complement of 20 and “all board members will be involved in these appeals at one time or another due to the volume,” said Fraser.
Of the appeals, 64 are challenging city application refusals while 14 seek to reverse refusals.
Would-be cannabis store operators like Angus Taylor of the New Leaf chain say time is of the essence for both appeals and final approvals.
“The most important thing for us is that it’s expedient,” said Taylor, who’s appealing a city refusal on a site on Centre St. N.
“If we lose the location and if there’s financial penalties to get out of the lease, we’d like to do that as soon as possible.”
He said an error was made in the rejection of the site and that it might already be too late to reverse that decision because, in the meantime, a competitor’s shop has been approved nearby.
“Once your application’s turned down, the authorities move to the next on the list and now we may too close to each other,” said Taylor.
Opposition by the public to store approvals, added Taylor, reflects a denial of the political and legal reality of recreational cannabis.
“Some communities have taken it upon themselves to challenge a federal government decision that was voted on and made at the highest levels,” said Taylor.
Another retail hopeful who’s appealing against regulatory rejection said those in the business can’t be naive given the possibility of opposition or subsequent rejection by the province.
“Even if I was approved, I wouldn’t be celebrating — it’s never-ending,” said the man, who remained anonymous for fear speaking out would affect his appeal.
“Only a very few shops are going to actually open on Oct. 17.”
Considerable opposition has also greeted four proposed designated cannabis smoking areas in four green spaces — two in Inglewood, one in Bridgeland and another in Ogden.
A city council public hearing and decisions on those is scheduled for Oct. 9.
on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn
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