Top News

Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s entrepreneur’s cannabis dispensary initiative dealt setbacks

In response to a petition signed by nearby residents in opposition to his planned licensed cannabis retail location in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Thomas Clarke says he’s started his own petition that he’ll present to council once they vote on municipal approval in the coming weeks. Before the vote, however, the town says Clarke must complete the work necessary to obtain a business permit.
In response to a petition signed by nearby residents in opposition to his planned licensed cannabis retail location in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Thomas Clarke says he’s started his own petition that he’ll present to council once they vote on municipal approval in the coming weeks. Before the vote, however, the town says Clarke must complete the work necessary to obtain a business permit. - Kenn Oliver

Thomas Clarke desperately wants to bring cannabis to the people of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.

“I'm trying to do this so the people in the cove don't have to leave the community and they can go to a legal, safe place that sells (Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.) licensed products that you know is safe because it's been through all the testing,” he says. “If people have to go to Dominion from Portugal Cove to get their cannabis, they'll continue buying it from their drug dealer who's going to have cheaper prices than us anyway.”

The long-time proponent for the legalization of cannabis is well on his way to realizing that goal, having been one of 24 successful applicants in the first round of the NLC’s request for proposals. (Another five conditional licenses have since been awarded.)

But Clarke’s pot plans for the Wild Newfoundland Blueberry Cannabis Company were dealt a setback last week when the town council voted unanimously — albeit missing two of the seven members of council — to deny his request for the municipal approval, one of a handful of requirements the NLC have placed on potential retailers.

Related story:

Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp ponders pot availability

Clarke says a letter received from the town following the Aug. 7 vote indicated that the reason it was denied was because of a petition signed by 26 residents who live in proximity to his proposed site at 1614 Portugal Cove Rd.

“The fact that they denied it at that time doesn't surprise me because I don't have all my ducks in a row yet to actually bring my application to them and say, ‘here's everything from the province, all my property is ready, now will you pass this,’” admits Clarke, whose property is still undergoing interior and exterior redevelopment to accommodate a cannabis retail operation.

“The fact that they said they were denying it based on the petition that had 26 signatures on it surprised me.”

But Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s Mayor Carol McDonald says the decision to deny his request was only partially based on the concerns raised in the petition. The main reason it was voted down is because Clarke hasn’t completed the work necessary to obtain a business permit.

“He's got to provide us with the information for a business permit first,” explains McDonald. “We can't put the cart before the horse.”

The mayor says once that information — which includes, but is not limited to, approval from provincial government departments and the local fire department — his request can then be brought back to council.

Asked how much weight the existing petition will carry, McDonald says, “it would have to be addressed.”

“I'm not saying that will stop it,” she says. “We have to look at it before council makes the decision to provide him with a permit.”

If deemed necessary based on how broad opposition to the store is, the mayor says they may have to engage in public consultations before making another vote.

“I hope they do that reasonably quickly because in order for me to be ready for Oct. 17, I need to have that license in place,” says Clarke, who came away from a meeting with the town planning and development committee earlier this week feeling more motivated than discouraged.

“I really hope they don't let a few signatures from a couple of people on a little street make the difference.”

Sign of the times

The petition was submitted to the town council in February after a resident who lives on Drover Heights, the road that will be used to access Clarke’s property, noticed a Telegram classified advertisement for a discretionary use application to operate a convenience store (specialty shop) at the site.

The ad, the petition suggests, is misleading since it doesn’t describe what products would be sold.

“It is unfair that other residents of our town have not been given the chance to dispute this application because the facts were not given,” it reads.

But the petition also spells out the signatories’ concerns over direct and indirect impacts on the neighbourhood.

Verbatim, it reads: “This type of business will have security cameras and security guards where our children may play, and consequently, they will be exposed to adult activities they would normally not see.

“There is an increased risk of vehicular traffic on our quiet road and it is possible that some of these people may be impaired of high, as either passengers or drivers.

“Although it may be regulated, this business may still elicit behaviours that we would not otherwise be seen in our area.

“There is no parking lot, therefore, cars will have to part along the main road on our street, blocking the main thoroughfare and blocking the shoulder for pedestrians, including our children.

(Clarke says he’s in the process of having the grounds around the building redeveloped to create parking for up to 10 vehicles, two of which will be accessible parking spots, and he’s even offered to erect a sign indicating local traffic only on Drover Heights.)

“We fear that this will negatively impact our property value and that clients may be deterred from home based-businesses in our area.

“It will also likely attach a stigma to the area, as being unappealing.”

Clarke, for his part, acknowledges their right to have concerns, but believes it’s based on fear and ignorance.

Moreover, he says none of the people who signed — almost all of whom live on Drover Heights or one of the adjacent streets — have brought their concerns directly to him.

In response to the petition against his proposed business, Clarke has started his own petition and based on the verbal support he’s garnered, he figures he can get at least a thousand signatures by week’s end, all of them from the area.

“There's a chance I may put together a team of people to go door to door and that's the only way I'm going to do it,” says Clarke. “I'm not putting it online or anything like that because I need people who are from the community and the best way to do that is face to face and maybe then I can alleviate some fears for people as well.”

The mayor says any petition from Clarke would carry as much weight as the existing petition when it comes time for council to decide.

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79

Recent Stories