Local business Deviant Fibres is not giving up after Terrace city council denied its cannabis store application earlier in September.
Inder and Aman Dhillon, owners of the hemp store on Lazelle Avenue, have been working since last October to get their licence and have spent $10,000 on their application and store renovation plans. That money is now “down the drain,” Aman says.
After receiving approval from the provincial government and through conversations with city staff, the local business owners thought their application was in the clear.
Inder and Aman, who don’t use marijuana themselves, purchased the business three years ago with the hopes of being able to sell recreational cannabis should it become legalized.
“There is research that went into this, that’s why they legalized it. It’s better for people to buy it from legal outlets than buying it on the street, where it could be laced,” Aman says. “We’re not here advocating marijuana, it’s just a business for us. But we want to run a business safely, and we picked this location because, for the most part, there are no kids around here. It would have been very discrete.”
However, city council can stop an application in its tracks if it feels the location is not a good fit for the community and council did just that on Sept. 9.
Letters in opposition from neighbouring businesses and 100 signatures in protest persuaded council to deny the application.
Comic Encounters, which shares the same building with Deviant Fibres, gathered signatures in opposition.
“No one told us there was a petition against us. That’s not fair,” Aman says. “Had we known, we would have gathered signatures in support earlier.”
Comic Encounters owner Gerry Mattson argued Deviant Fibres’ location was less than ideal with it being so close to the Ksan Society’s cold weather shelter, and that his store’s younger customers could mistake the marijuana store for his business because of the close proximity.
“I did a petition, but it wasn’t my idea, it was customers’ idea. Parents of kids, saying you should be fighting this,” Mattson says.
“We already have three pot stores approved for town, we have five more applying for licences in various stages. It’s not necessary.”
Since the Deviant Fibres store opened next door, Mattson’s seen an increase in negative activity.
“They’ve been good neighbours, but the problem is we’ve already had a lot of people hanging around here. I’ve had guys coming in here swearing when I was helping a woman and two children,” Mattson says. “That was a common occurrence. I’m not worried about the customers, I’m worried about the people that hang out here.”
Aman and Inder say they redesigned the store’s layout, proposing a $20-25,000 renovation to build a vestibule to make it easily identifiable to and prevent customers from mistaking their store for the comic book store. They also suggested moving the entrance altogether at the other end of the store to assuage Mattson’s concerns.
Mattson says building another entrance on the opposite end of the building would help, but he still feels having a recreational cannabis store so close is not appropriate.
“If they had a licence that would make it better, but it’s still not good,” he says. “I want my business to stay family friendly and safe, but I’m also worried about the neighbourhood.”
Without a licence, keeping their hemp and smoke shop alive will be next to impossible, Aman says.
“We are a pipe store. There are pot stores opening everywhere in Terrace now. They will be selling the same accessories we are. As a customer, would you go to a place that sells only accessories, or a store that sells pot and accessories? No one is going to come in here. This place is going to close, and the building owner is going to lose a tenant.”
Since the application was denied, Aman and Inder have gathered more than 300 signatures in support and have asked city council to reconsider their decision.
During the Sept. 11 council meeting in which the application was denied, councillors suggested Deviant Fibres pursue another location. But that would require Aman and Inder to do the entire year-long application process over again.
“They were not aware in the meeting that we cannot change the location on the application. We have to go and start a new application, spend $7,500 on the application fee, and wait one year to get new approval for the new location. They were not aware,” Aman says.
There is no cap set for how many marijuana stores can open in Terrace, but there is a distance of 100 metres required between outlets.
“Terrace is tiny. Where are we going to find a store now?” Aman says.
The signatures and letter were submitted to council on Friday. If city council reconsiders their decision, the store owners won’t have to reapply.
“We’ve been running other businesses in the city, too. We have properties, we’ve been supporting the City of Terrace,” Aman says.
“I think it’s not fair to kill a local business while supporting people coming from outside.”
The Terrace Standard has reached out to the City of Terrace for comment.