In an unexpected move Tuesday, Penticton city council voted to immediately extend the limit on operational hours for cannabis stores in town from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., to 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Council had been asked by staff to simply endorse a two-year review for the cannabis retail sales policy, which would be a two-month process gathering information and a report back to council in August, potentially recommending increasing store hours.
Since council adopted its policy in 2018, it has supported the applications of 13 stores in the community.
"There's been minimal public opposition or complaints on these locations. I'd say likewise with our bylaw department and RCMP," said city director of development services Blake Laven.
"We have received letters from the retailers themselves, requesting that moratorium on new stores as well as extending the hours that stores to be open to to 11 p.m. which is what the province allows. Staff are proposing a very focused, review process, where we're going to spend the next month, engaging with retailers, neighbouring properties, business groups."
Mayor John Vassilaki spoke up, wondering why suffering businesses needed to wait two more months to potentially extend hours.
"I'm not keen on further expansion of cannabis stores in Penticton, but I think we're probably the only municipality of any size within the interior of British Columbia that have a closing at eight o'clock instead of 11," Vassilaki said.
"Our merchants need as much help as they can get, for what has been happening for the last year and a half."
Coun. Julius Bloomfield agreed.
"I've long wondered, you know, why we have different opening hour restrictions on on cannabis stores compared to liquor outlets. Cannabis is a legal product, the same as liquor, with controlled sales. And it is controlled by the same branch, and so it makes perfect sense to me to have the same hours of operation limits on cannabis stores as we would on liquor stores, and I'm fully ready to have that discussion straightaway," he said.
Coun. Katie Robinson, who was openly wary about cannabis shops when council was making the original bylaws and was the only councillor to vote in favour of banning cannabis shops downtown, also agreed.
"I've certainly been impressed with the professionalism of all the stores involved, and this might sound strange coming from me but I'd be willing to put forward a motion to extend the hours, and make them the same as the liquor stores right now," Robinson said.
Staff landed on proposing cannabis stores be allowed to open until 11 p.m. on a temporary basis, effective immediately, while the review process is underway.
"That could supersede the, the business license bylaw and we'll formalize it through a bylaw amendment when we bring back the additional policy work," Laven said, adding the idea is beneficial to the overall review.
"It'll give people a chance to understand what those extended hours look and feel like. It's not based on speculation at that point, it actually gives us a few months to test it and see without actually amending the bylaw."
Council voted unanimously to support the motion.