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Chinatown residents rally against cannabis stores

(Tom Ross - 660NEWS)

With the legalization of cannabis likely only months away across Canada, some residents in Calgary’s Chinatown community voiced their displeasure on Saturday over the prospect of cannabis stores opening in their neighbourhood.

Hosted by the Calgary Chinese Union, the rally also included a petition that will be sent to the city.

“We want to keep the Chinatown clean, and healthy, and safe,” said Calgary Chinese Union Vice President Cynthia Shi.

A main sticking point is that they don’t think cannabis stores are a fit for Chinatown, and they feel they were not consulted enough.

Consultations were held in April of this year, and there was also an online survey available from November to December of 2017. However, members of the Union were not there, and Zack Moyer said that is the fault of the city.

“We felt we weren’t made aware of these consultations,” he said. “When you have this type of disrespect. When you have this type of lack of transparency, in the opinion of the people organizing this, this type of lack of transparency is very disturbing. And to be quite honest, it’s not really the place to put a cannabis shop if you want to attract business.”

Along with consultations, the people at the rally feel cannabis use is not supported by their traditional values.

“In our cultural values, we still think of marijuana as a categorized drug,” said Jennifer Tan, who is also a nurse. She says there is good use for cannabis in the medical sense, but disagrees with it becoming legal for recreational use.

However, it is worth noting that cannabis has a long history in China. The use of hemp, cannabis and hemp seeds dates back thousands of years, and it is even referenced positively in ancient medical texts. Use of cannabis was not banned until 1985, and then in the late ’90s the government in Yunnan Province began cracking down on cannabis plants that were being widely grown in the region.

When asked about why specifically they are worried about the possible problems from legal cannabis stores, there was no evidence, just the assumption that there would be a rise in crime and that people going to cannabis stores would not go to other shops in Chinatown.

“They feel that there’s people that will come into the community, patrons of these stores perhaps, that are … well, it’s not going to be members of Chinatown, they feel that way,” said Moyer.

“When a store opens, they open the door to the worst consequence,” added Shi.

At the start of the day, there were two applications for cannabis stores in Chinatown. By the afternoon, one had been rescinded after the applicant spoke to the Chinatown District Business Improvement Area

“His intention was medical cannabis,” said Terry Wong, Executive Director of the BIA. “But recognizing that people really don’t know the difference between medical cannabis versus others, recognizing that the Chinese cultural heritage in Chinatown is a greater concern, that he’s withdrawn his application.”

There is another application still in the works, but it would require a zoning change.

Wong says the BIA is not against the provincial or federal legislation over cannabis, but this debate comes only days after an agreement was reached with Calgary City Council to revitalize Chinatown with a plan that also respects the distinct culture in the area.

Furthermore, there is some precedent for not allowing a shop there.

“Chinatown has had a history for the last 50 years or so, relative to the old drug trade or prostitution or whatever. Subsequent that in 1980, we have a land use that prevents liquor stores, nightclubs, strip joints and things of the such,” said Wong.

He added that for right now, while they work out this new revitalization plan, it’s not the time for a cannabis store to open up in Chinatown.

“We just want to ensure that the cultural plan and cultural influence is respected before any approval to cannabis applications are put forward.”