News / Vancouver

City stands by rejection of pot dispensary linked to SRO owners

Vancouver's Board of Variance voted against appeal from staffer of rooming house owned by Sahota family Wednesday.

A resident of the Sahota family-owned Astoria Hotel, who identified himself only as Jeremy, tries to set a poster of the rooming house owners on fire during a protest Wednesday against a marijuana dispensary linked to the Sahotas.

David P. Ball / Metro

A resident of the Sahota family-owned Astoria Hotel, who identified himself only as Jeremy, tries to set a poster of the rooming house owners on fire during a protest Wednesday against a marijuana dispensary linked to the Sahotas.

The City of Vancouver stood by its refusal of a marijuana shop permit to Herban Legends, a business linked to the Sahota family who own low-income rooming houses, after a heated Board of Variance hearing on Wednesday evening.

Residents of the Downtown Eastside rallied at Vancouver City Hall during the business's unsuccessful appeal of that decision.

The city had initially rejected the dispensary's application under its rules that no marijuana dispensaries — which sell pot despite it still being illegal until federal laws change, expected next year — may operate within 300 metres of a school.

Herban Legends wanted to open at 3038 Arbutus St. near West 14th Avenue, which is 220 metres from a satellite daycare of a school, but not the school itself.

The shop's lawyer, Kirk Tousaw, said that's a big distinction since children under 6 have no interest in drugs and are not the reason for the school zone rules.

"It's a daycare, it is not a school," he argued. "There was a decision by the city not to include daycares … I don't think we need to re-legislate that now. This use is appropriate at this location."

However, ultimately the Board of Variance disagreed, and dismissed the appeal, but not before hearing from dozens of opponents of the proposal.

The bulk of speakers and community letters submitted — 58 against, none for, the Board of Variance chair revealed — in the case weren't about the school issue at all, but the dispensary's connections to a family that owns poorly maintained single-resident occupancy buildings in the Downtown Eastside, including the condemned and evacuated Balmoral Hotel: the Sahota family.

The applicant was an alleged employee at the Sahota's Astoria Hotel, Lachman Singh; he would not answer Metro's questions about his employment or alleged links to the Sahotas as he arrived at City Hall.

Herban Legends' property was worth $606,000 one year ago, according to B.C. records, but was bought for $800,000 on April 18, 2016. The land and business are owned by a numbered company, but its incorporation documents include the Sahota's Astoria Hotel address on East Hastings Street.

Tousaw dismissed speakers' criticisms of the Sahotas, calling them "people not part of this application," he said, adding that the city's initial decision was "wholly subjective".

"It appears to be a wholly subjective decision," he argued. "…The refusal was an improper exercise of discretion, it shouldn't have been refused in the first place."

Outside City Hall, meanwhile, members of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative Society carried posters with photographs of three members of the Sahota family, with the words "Not wanted: The Sahotas … have no business selling pot."

One of them was Jeremy, a long-time resident of the Sahota-owned Astoria Hotel who asked that only his first name be published.

"I don't think (Singh) should own a pot store, he can't even run a building right," he told reporters. "There's black mould all over the wall, all over the door, all over the back of the fridge."

Another resident of a Sahota-owned East Hastings Street hotel, the condemned and evacuated Balmoral Hotel, said

"It's disgusting," Karyn Derkson told Metro when asked why she was opposing the marijuana application. "People who have that kind of money shouldn't take it from the poor.

"Most of the people who lived in the Balmoral were on welfare or on disability."

One person who addressed the hearing inside City Hall operated another marijuana dispensary, and said she opposed the application because it would give the industry a bad name.

"At this stage of legalization, we are all front-line cannabis ambassadors," said Cait Hurley, with the Farm Dispensary. "And that comes with responsibility to … listen to feedback from our communities.

"I am here today because I don't want the cannabis community to suffer as a result of the Sahotas' application … They have a publicised history of bad business practices."

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Ranjit Sahota — listed as co-owner of his family’s Kerrisdale home as “semi-retired” — would not confirm or deny any Sahota links to Herbal Legends or its property.

“Why would you want to know my business?” he asked Metro. When told it was because of Herbal Legend’s City Hall appeal, he replied: “So what? So what seems to be the problem?”

Asked if his family owned Herban Legends, Sahota hung up the phone mid-conversation and did not answer upon redialing.

The Sahotas also own a company, Sunshine Coast Cannabis Farms Inc., which is located at a Port Mellon, B.C. property worth $1.7 million in 2016.

—With files from Jen St. Denis

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