On May 15, the provincial government took the next step in facilitating retail cannabis access across Manitoba. Back in March, seven rural communities were shortlisted for retail sales outlets, including Niverville. This was a part of the province’s initiative to provide cannabis access within a 30-minute drive of 90 percent of the population.
In May, prequalified retailers were randomly selected by the province for each community and given the first right of refusal. Canna Cabana Inc., an Alberta-based corporation, was given first dibs at a Niverville location.
On May 17, the company accepted the offer.
Canna Cabana Inc. is a subsidiary of High Tide, a corporation focused on the manufacturing and wholesale distribution of smoking accessories and cannabis lifestyle products. The company’s origins date back to 2009 when it began operations as an independent chain store called Smoker’s Corner, catering to cannabis enthusiasts across western Canada.
Today, they tout themselves as the largest counterculture chain in Canada with 15 Canna Cabana locations across the country. Niverville’s location would be their sixteenth.
“We’re thrilled,” says Nick Kuzyk, Chief Strategy Officer and SVP Capital Markets for High Tide. “Manitoba will be a new province for us. We’ve heard how Niverville is a growing and thriving [community]… We’ll be happy to interact with the community and we hope people will be willing to be [receptive to us as well].”
But before Niverville residents get too excited, there is still one major hurdle to jump before any cannabis retailer sets up shop. Canna Cabana Inc. will be required to appeal to Niverville’s town council for a conditional use permit—and council gets the final say on whether they will open for business here or not.
As many will recall, 2018 was a decisive year for much of rural Manitoba. Municipalities across the province were required to hold a mandatory plebiscite (a vote by residents) if they hoped to opt out of cannabis retail. Niverville was one of many communities that chose not to hold such a vote.
“Niverville did not need to make a decision and we chose not to make a decision,” says CAO Eric King. “Council decided that they didn’t have the information in place at the time. They didn’t even have enough [info] from the province to say what they were deciding on.”
Instead Niverville’s council reworked their current zoning bylaws to add contingencies in the event that a cannabis retail application surfaced in the future. They determined that such a business would need to operate outside of a 1,000-foot perimeter of any school or public recreation facility. This leaves only two potential locations—along the east end of Bronstone Drive or in the business park.
And like any new business, they would require a conditional use permit. Before such a permit can be awarded, a public hearing is required, providing residents with the opportunity to speak to the topic before council votes.
To outright deny a cannabis retailer the opportunity to make a presentation to council isn’t an option. King says that council is required to consider all permit applications, even if the request is unusual or controversial, unless there are specifics within the zoning bylaws that ban certain operations.
While the business park zoning isn’t currently set up for retail, council would be able to change the zoning if the proposal was deemed fitting.
“What council has to decide on is not whether they agree with pot or not but whether they agree with the concept of a [cannabis] store in Niverville,” King says. “You have to take [your position on pot] out of it and determine whether a store is good for Niverville. That’s what the public hearing would be based on.”
King says that, for the most part, council will not be entertaining private meetings with individuals or groups who want their voice to be heard on the matter beforehand. Instead the public hearing will provide opportunity to everyone wishing to make an appeal, or simply come out and listen in on the discussions. This approach, he says, should help residents understand that council was not swayed by public opinion before the hearing.
“We’ve set it up that, for this topic in particular, we’re going to ask those questions at the hearing. So it will be a longer hearing compared to a typical one,” King says. “If there is someone who… would present an educated case [on the subject], it should be heard by all, not just by council.”
He adds that, as CAO, he will not be making recommendations to council on this issue, such as he does in many other circumstances.
“I’m not encouraging [council] either way,” says King. “This is totally up to them. Normally, I would come up with a recommendation from the business angle of it all, but this is more than that. But at the end of the day, it should just be a business decision.”
King would further like residents to understand that, if council votes in favour of the conditional use permit, council still have the flexibility to apply specific conditions to the permit, which might include hours of operation and other aspects of the business that residents deem important.
As usual, residents will receive at least two weeks’ notice before a hearing is held. Advertising will appear in every local mailbox through the town’s community newsletter as well as on social media and the town’s website. King says they’ll lean toward an evening meeting to allow for better attendance.
“You might see [a public hearing] as early as June 18 if they really want it to fly through,” adds King. “[Canna Cabana Inc. have] already talked about coming out and seeing the community and meeting people and learning about Niverville.”
If residents are unable to attend the meeting but would like their opinion read into the public record at the hearing, King recommends sending council an email once the hearing date has been announced. Emails received earlier than that will not be registered into the public record.
But while council will be ready to listen to every concern at the hearing, King reminds everyone that a topic as potentially controversial as this one means that some will be disappointed with the outcome.
“At the end of the day, these are your elected representatives… and it may not go the way some people want it to go… but it’ll go the way [council] feels would be the best benefit for the town,” concludes King.
As a father and Niverville resident himself, King finds it somewhat reassuring that the province chose a retailer that is well established and reputable rather than a small-time cannabis enthusiast. And, he adds, it will likely be a long time before a second cannabis retailer came to town since the community and surrounding area won’t be large enough to sustain more than one retailer for a long time to come.
If Canna Cabana Inc. receives a green light from council on the day of the hearing, Kuzyk of High Tide says that all employees of the new retail outlet will be hired locally and thoroughly trained by management staff.
“We think that [hiring locals] provides the best experience for our customers,” says Kuzyk. “We always hire local. That’s been our practice over the past ten years.”
Though some of their locations across Canada run as franchises, the Niverville location would be corporately run.