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No more red tape blues: Burnaby’s new liquor and cannabis policy streamlines licensing applications

Grow Opportunity, Media Partners

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By Lubna El Elaimy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burnaby Beacon

At the city’s Planning and Development Committee meeting on Mar. 13, staff presented the new liquor and cannabis policy. The new policy, which results from months of planning, public engagement, and review of the old policy, aims to cut down on red tape, simplify the licensing process, and reduce council involvement in the minutiae of the liquor licence application (LLA) process.

Cody Bator, planning analyst with the city, and Johannes Schumann, director of urban development and planning, presented the new policy to committee members and responded to questions. The policy review was first brought to the committee in May 2023. In its Sept. 14 newsletter, the Beacon advertised the city’s public engagement survey. According to Bator’s presentation, 395 residents responded to the survey, and a report with the findings is available online.

“In general, the majority of respondents were neutral or supportive of expanded liquor service and were neutral or unsupportive of expanded cannabis service. Focus discussions and informal consultation sessions were also held with Fraser Health, industry, business, and internal departments,” Bator said.


A key difference between the new and old policies is that the new policy eliminates the requirement for rezoning before obtaining a licence. According to the new policy, Ed Kozak, general manager for planning and development, will review applications and provide comments and recommendations to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB). Applications will only be referred to city council in cases where engagement with neighbouring residents and businesses and the RCMP identifies serious concerns related to the proposed location.

“​​The current process for evaluating and processing liquor primary licences provides the city with significant oversight and control when responding to new and amendment licence requests,” the report said, adding that this level of oversight and control has disadvantages. The current rezoning process for a liquor primary establishment takes at least six months, and city processing times take at least two more months. “Cumulatively, this existing process can be overwhelming and costly for small business operators, discouraging some from opening a new establishment or making an amendment application.”

Mayor Mike Hurley described the current process, saying, “Some of our rules are pretty crazy,” adding his support for reducing red tape and streamlining the process.

But the new policy is not without controversy, at least not in council. On Mar. 13, Coun. Sav Dhaliwal expressed concerns about the policy and what it might mean for Burnaby residents.

“If the public is comfortable, are we trying to really now make it say that, ‘oh yes, it’s okay to add more liquor stores because businesses want it?’ The need hasn’t been demonstrated,” Dhaliwal said, referring to the survey results. “I’m supportive of streamlining, but certainly, there ought to be a cap on the number we are going to allow.”

Schumann replied that the new policy does not automatically mean an increase in the number of liquor licences granted, especially with the province’s moratorium on new liquor licences until 2032.

“People can buy a licence existing somewhere and bring it to Burnaby; in other words, 50 licences can move in right now without having a new one issued by the province,” Dhaliwal replied. “They can buy one in Kamloops and move it here or from Prince George.”

Cannabis applications being an even bigger hot-button issue, the mayor suggested limiting the number of possible new cannabislicences to five new public licences and five private ones.

Currently, Burnaby only has three government-owned cannabisstores, one each in Metrotown, Brentwood, and Big Bend. Under the new policy, the city will accept applications for privately-owned stores.

“We have to grow into it rather than force feed it,” Hurley said regarding the limit he suggested on cannabis stores. “There will be a lot of opposition, let’s not kid ourselves, to cannabisstores.”

According to the council report, the current process hampers the ability of private cannabis operators to apply for a licence and open a store.

The report said, “The rezoning process is particularly onerous for private retail cannabis operators, as the LCRB requires an operator to present a lease or lease agreement at the time of application. A lengthy rezoning process may either deter a landlord from renting the space to a private cannabis operator or cause the operator to incur significant rent costs.”

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