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Coquitlam cannabis business gets variance, licence after apology

Coquitlam Coun. Teri Towner, who voted against the variance permit with Coun. Robert Mazzarolo, noted Green Mile Original Ltd. faces nearly $175,000 in fines for operating without a business licence.

A company producing and processing cannabis in Coquitlam that has operated for about a year without a municipal business licence was reprimanded this week by city council.

But some elected officials softened their stance when they learned who the business owner was before granting a development variance permit to cut a distance requirement.

On Monday, June 3, city council voted 7-2 in favour of the permit for OTG Developments — under Associated Labels and Packaging — to continue running its micro-cultivation and micro-processing cannabis facility at 67B, 69A and 69B Clipper St., off United Boulevard.

Since the site is 100 metres from future residential parcels at the Fraser Mills waterfront community, OTG had to apply for a variance to reduce the separation requirement from 200 m.

Under the permit, no retail cannabis sales would be allowed at the industrial location.

Chris Jarvie, Coquitlam’s director of development services, said the operator Green Mile Original Ltd. wrote to the municipality on Jan. 12, 2023, about its intent to gain a Health Canada licence for cannabis cultivation.

The next day, city staff told the business that it would not be in zoning compliance if it set up shop, as future residential sites are nearby.

A variance permit would be required before a business licence could be issued, it was told.

Still, Green Mile went ahead with the federal licensing for the site, and the Health Canada licence was issued last June “without further confirmation of compliance with municipal bylaws and policies between the city and Health Canada,” Jarvie wrote in his report.

Green Mile ramped up its operations in July, arranged for a meeting with city staff in August and completed its variance permit application in November for council consideration.

City manager Raul Allueva said enforcement has been on hold since the bid was received.

Coun. Teri Towner, who voted against the variance permit with Coun. Robert Mazzarolo, noted the company faces nearly $175,000 in fines for operating without a business licence.

Asked by Coun. Dennis Marsden if the penalty could be retroactive, Allueva said city hall could collect immediately if council turned down the variance permit application.

Marsden called on city staff to alert council if they find other non-conforming businesses.

Coun. Brent Asmundson said Coquitlam businesses need to respect municipal bylaws.

But when a planning consultant for OTG Developments told council that Associated Labels was linked to the project and apologized for the mis-steps, Asmundson and Marsden pointed out the family’s business history in Coquitlam and its corporate sponsorship to give back.

“I think they may have learned their lesson,” Asmundson said, adding of Associated Label’s president Shaun Ashworth, if it were “not for his reputation, I would have turned this down.”

“I’m concerned by the comments that we know the applicants,” Mazzarolo later retorted. “What does it matter? Follow the rules. The rules apply the same to everybody.”

Towner said she wasn’t comfortable turning a blind eye to a non-conforming business while Coun. Steve Kim said he was dismayed a long-standing business “didn’t know the process.”

“Consequences are important,” said Coun. Matt Djonlic as he called on city staff to look at bylaw enforcement penalties against the applicant — a move supported by Andrew Merrill, Coquitlam's general manager of planning and development.