Cannabis shop coming to UBC after contentious application

Rafferty Baker · CBC News · Jul 07, 2022

A new cannabis dispensary is set to open this fall next to the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver. Currently, the nearest legal retailer for those on campus who want to buy cannabis is 2.5 kilometres away. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A cannabis dispensary is coming to the University of British Columbia’s main campus in Vancouver, nearly four years after legalization.

The application to open the store, submitted by a company called Burb, had to overcome significant opposition from neighbours, who gathered nearly 1,900 signatures in an online petition.

A competing petition in favour of the store managed to collect more than 2,000 signatures, and the plan was also supported by the Alma Mater Society (AMS)‚ the organization representing more than 56,000 students at the campus.

In a quirk of local governance, the decision to approve the new cannabis shop was made by the Metro Vancouver committee for Electoral Area A, which oversees the University Endowment Lands — the area around the university campus.

Burb claims its store, which will be its eighth in the province — the maximum for any single company — will be the first in the world at a major university campus. Technically, the shop will be just off campus in the University Village.

Opposition to the store

Neighbours and other opponents to the cannabis store undertook a vocal campaign to have the application rejected.

A nearby resident named Connie Chen posted an online petition which suggested the store would attract people to the area for purposes “unrelated to the university.”

The petition goes on to note elementary schools 700 metres and 1,400 metres away, along with a high school within one kilometre.

“By allowing cannabis retail to exist in this business plaza, we are putting vulnerable children at a high risk of exposure to substances they are too young for,” stated the petition.

Support from students

The petition in favour of the application was posted by Sean Safaei, who is with Burb.

But beyond the petition, the proposal enjoyed the support of the student union. 

“Since the AMS was in support of the project right from the beginning, it’s definitely good news for the students,” said Eshana Bhangu, president of the AMS, of the application approval.

“We just think the UBC student body really deserves to have a safe space nearby where purchasing cannabis is accessible and provided in a stress-free environment,” she said.

Bhangu said without a dispensary at the campus, students have been forced to take a bus ride to purchase cannabis, or in many cases, turn to illicit suppliers — dealers — if they wanted more immediate access.

The nearest legal cannabis store is about 2.5 kilometres from campus.

“Locations like these really do reduce illegal activity and we don’t think that this is going to have any risk to families and underage youth,” said Bhangu.

The new store is set to open this fall.