City council’s steps towards regulating the storefront sale of medical marijuana continued to be a hot topic at its meeting on Monday night—and the divide is growing.
“We’re coming into a crucial point right now. We’re actually going to be creating a bylaw that’s not supporting what the federal law is and I’ve got strong concerns,” said Coun. Denis Sauve.
Sauve, along with Mayor Mike Ruttan, have been staunch in their opposition to imposing any municipal regulations on what they consider a federal matter.
However, Sauve’s motion to abolish all marijuana dispensaries within the city was defeated as Sauve was questioned on the practicality of his motion.
“What are the steps to shutting them down that we haven’t taken already?” Coun. Sharie Minions asked.
“Us making a motion is not going to shut down the five shops that we have.”
Currently, storefront marijuana dispensaries are illegal under the Criminal Code and medical marijuana is regulated federally. However, Alberni’s municipal council has chosen to follow in the steps of Vancouver and Victoria. The former has regulations in place and the latter is considering them.
Council was again challenged by resident Neil Anderson on how establishing a regulatory scheme did not condone and encourage the spread of the storefront dispensaries.
“There’s one question I have to ask. How have the changes adopted tonight not given a green light to these dispensaries?”
Ruttan said that while he had not personally voted to regulate dispensaries, the city had explored all possible other avenues and was trying to do something, rather than nothing.
“I have consistently not voted in favour because I do not believe that it’s the right thing for us to do,” said Ruttan.
“But it doesn’t matter—this is what council has voted for and I believe that council’s position is fairly clear. It is this council’s best attempt to control the uncontrollable.”
Coun. Dan Washington, who had voted in favour of regulation in the past, said he was torn on the issue but hoped that this would control the surge of shops opening up.
“I think this process is going to weed out a lot of them that can’t meet the criteria.”
Upon council’s request, city planner Scott Smith brought forward updated zoning bylaws and business licence requirements. As per the proposed zoning bylaw, storefront dispensaries would only be allowed in general commercial, service commercial, highway commercial and core business zones. In essence, this restricts them to the Uptown and Johnston Road business cores.
Dispensaries must also remain 300 metres from the closest school, 1000 metres from any other dispensaries, not have an ATM or have their store used for any other purpose other than the dispensing of marijuana.
Proposed business licence regulations would require that all marijuana dispensaries have a business licence at a cost of $220 from the city and a recognition that a city business licence in no way represents a compliance with senior government laws. The $220 cost is the same as a liquor outlet business licence. Under current bylaws, not having a business licence is subject to fines of $150.
In order to comply with the requirements of the business licence, storefront dispensaries must not serve minors under the age of 19, have a monitored fire alarm and security system including video surveillance, limit hours of operation between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., have transparent shop fronts and have product signage warning stating that products sold on the premises are not Health Canada approved.
Applications, council directed, will be approved on first come, first serve basis.
Responding to concerns raised by Sauve regarding grandfathering in the existing shops, Smith said he believes there is no need to grandfather in shops that opened before the bylaw is implemented.
“Grandfathering only comes into play when the business was legal before a bylaw was introduced.”
However, Smith added that a legal opinion may be necessary to allay council concerns.
Three readings were given to the zoning and business licence bylaws for storefront marijuana regulations.
The proposed changes will go to a public hearing before they can be passed by city council. The hearing is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 5 p.m. in council chambers and council can vote on it at the meeting that same night.