Nfld. & Labrador

Crossed wires in council's rejection of Portugal Cove pot shop, mayor says

The licence holder for the potential marijuana retailer says he wasn't approved because of a petition, but the mayor says his application was incomplete.

Shop's owner received a letter saying his business proposal was voted down by council because of a petition

Thomas Clarke hopes this location at 1614 Portugal Cove Rd. will soon be a legal retailer for recreational marijuana. (CBC)

For Thomas Clarke, the $125,000 he's put into a store where he plans to sell legal marijuana is the culmination of a longtime dream.

The store's future is uncertain though, as he awaits approval from the town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's — which earlier this month rejected approval for the store, citing a local petition — to operate his business, which he's been planning to open in October.

"It's pretty regressive for the town to vote it down," Clarke said Wednesday.

"I feel like if we all come together, we can find a solution that puts my shop at this location and is the right thing for the people of Portugal Cove."

Clarke received one of the 12 licences initially awarded by the province for the legal sale of marijuana, and only one of three independent businesspeople to make the cut out of 90 applications. Town council's unanimous vote against approving the business has put up a roadblock, but Clarke says he isn't giving up on his goal of selling legal, recreational marijuana out of 1614 Portugal Cove Rd.

Clarke received a letter from the council saying that a petition from local residents was the reason for their rejection of his business, and the minutes of the council meeting also mention that petition.

However, the mayor of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's says council rejected the business because the application is not yet complete.

Clarke says he has a few steps to complete in his business proposal for a legal marijuana retailer on Portugal Cove Road, but aims to be open for Oct. 17. (CBC)

"Of course we had to consider the petition as well, but the proper reason why it was rejected was because he didn't have a business permit," said Mayor Carol McDonald, who added that council is open to voting again when they receive the proper permits.

The confusion highlights a problem that communities across the province — and the country — will face as the Oct. 17 legalization date for recreational marijuana gets closer. Sale licences will be issued by the provincial government, but the business locations will ultimately require approval from individual municipalities.

Steps left to complete

Clarke himself acknowledges he has some steps to complete before he is ready to get up and running, and says council voted prematurely on his business.

He needs to complete his final electrical inspection, he said, and have his final business inspection from the province, and he said he expects both things to be done soon.

He hopes to bring everything council needs to a meeting later this month, and thinks ultimately he will receive the approval he's seeking.

"I'll be able to bring it back to council again, and they seem very open-minded about voting on it again," Clarke said.

McDonald said council knows he plans to request municipal approval again and will vote at that time.

Petition could be a factor

There are still residents who don't approve, however, as the petition signed by 26 residents in the nearby Drover's Heights area shows. 

"If he meets all conditions then we have to consider the petition," McDonald said.

The petition lists concerns like late hours that will disrupt the neighbourhood, worries about what children may be exposed to through the store's operations, and the potential of impaired drivers in the area.

Clarke says the petition is ultimately a "hiccup" that he can overcome. In the meantime, he's starting a petition of his own that he hopes local residents will sign to show support for him and his business.

Michael Murray, the president of the chamber of commerce for Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, says the chamber supports Clarke's business. (CBC)

"I feel that I have the support of the community," he said.

"If I don't have 2,500 signatures within the next two weeks, I'd be quite surprised."

He is already backed by the local chamber of commerce, which has more than 75 members. The chamber will meet on Wednesday to vote on Clarke's request for their official support, and if that vote passes they will write a letter of support that he can submit to council, said Michael Murray, the town's chamber president.

Murray says the council is likely acting prudently to ensure things are done the right way, but he believes they will ultimately approve the business.

"I think it's a progressive step forward for the community," he said.

"Alcohol is certainly part of the fabric of Newfoundland society. I think marijuana, from its underworld position, has come into to the light and I think that's the right thing to do."

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