Esquimalt bong stores could go up in smoke as early as next year, thanks to a bylaw update put forward at Monday's council meeting.
Following on the heels of Coun. Tim Morrison's attempt to outlaw a bong mascot in the township earlier this year, an updated business licence and regulation bylaw includes the following: "Any business selling drug paraphernalia will not be permitted to operate within a three-kilometre radius from any school grounds."
As Esquimalt is only seven square kilometres, the ban would effectively apply to the entire municipality. Council passed a first reading of the bylaw Monday and will accept public input before passing rubber-stamping the final draft later this fall.
"We're not saying no to business, but we are sending a message that we have standards and we're concerned about certain types of businesses," said Mayor Barb Desjardins.
While Desjardins is personally opposed to marijuana use and decriminalization, she said she'll be responsive to input from all stakeholders on the proposed bylaw.
"Residents, advocates of decriminalization, the business community, we need to be open to all that feedback," she said.
Desjardins admitted staff may have difficulty defining what constitutes "drug paraphernalia," should the bylaw be approved.
"Maybe a syringe, those are commonly sold at drug stores for diabetics. Hookah pipes may be a culturally significant apparatus that has no implication with drug use, but can be used for that purpose," she said.
Esquimalt caused an uproar from the pro-marijuana community last April when Morrison suggested the township could ban a bong mascot being used by The Bong Warehouse on Esquimalt Road. A staff report is expected on the matter this fall.
Ryan Place, owner of The Bong Warehouse, said he heard about the proposed restriction through media reports, and said council is wasting its time and pursuing the agenda of a minority of people.
"We're right in the middle of a referendum for the decriminalization of marijuana going on right now, and they're talking about going after paraphernalia stores," Place said. "They're down to using children as a scapegoat. Anyone who's worried about this store being three kilometres away from their kid, I think that's more of a parenting issue than anything. My kids would never be three kilometres out of my sight."
As part of the bylaw overhaul, staff is also recommending councillors consider banning door-to-door sales, requiring new gas stations to install electric vehicle charging stations and providing cheaper business licences for seasonal operators within the township.
"It's really important we do this in a timely manner. We do not want to do this in a way that's delaying business licences next year," Desjardins said.
The Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce will issue a formal response to the proposed changes in the coming weeks, said acting president Doug Stroud.
Esquimalt last updated its business bylaws in 2001; the current update is slated to come into effect for the 2014 licensing period.