Critics fear-mongering over proposed cannabis stores

Published on January 25, 2021 by David Wylie

Roxanne Petruk says cannabis stores make downtown Vernon look like "Drug Alley."

Legal retail cannabis stores are yet again facing opposition in Vernon, with critics flinging fear.

Two more cannabis stores are applying to open in the North Okanagan city of Vernon. It has the highest number of cannabis stores in any BC community, with 17 stores currently granted a provincial licence.

Some of the opponents chose to root their opposition in stigma.

Roxanne Petruk, executive director of Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy, wrote a letter to council against a proposed cannabis store nearby.

“Multiple cannabis stores in the downtown gives the sense of a ‘Drug Alley’ in the downtown and attracts loitering of persons in the drug culture, as opposed to families and tourism,” she says.

Petruk says she’s worried about the safety of the 150 students who would have to walk to school near the proposed store.

“Although a cannabis retailer on its own does not necessarily increase the risk of theft or assault, promoting a general sense that if you want drugs (legal or illegal) ‘downtown is the place to be’ could increase unwanted trafficking and thus decrease student safety.”

Meanwhile, Dave Ryll from Vern-View Dev. argues the downtown core has a problem with homeless people who congregate and “‘feed off others,’ usually by begging or panhandling.”

“To be fair, I would not classify most of these people in a category that would be frequenting a store such as the one in the subject application, but I do feel there is a connection,” he says. “… I feel there may still be some common links or something that would be associated to our city’s drug problem.”

WATCH: Dean Millard reacts to this story during The Cannabis 101 Podcast

There were more clearheaded arguments made.

The owner of nearby Hive Cannabis has also written to council opposing one of the proposed stores, which would be “a stone’s throw” near his downtown location.

“Firstly I think that there are already more than enough cannabis retail outlets in Vernon,” he wrote. “Although competition is healthy, at this scale the viability of the existing retail outlets is already stretched.”

City council will consider the two applications today (Jan. 25).