— Pamela Roth
Anyone interesting in setting up a medical marijuana dispensary in Esquimalt will have to look elsewhere following council’s decision to deny all applications for business licences pertaining to dispensaries in the township.
The 6-1 vote Monday night stems from an earlier inquiry from someone wanting to establish a business to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in the township. Any medical marijuana dispensaries that are found operating will be referred to bylaw enforcement staff and police for appropriate enforcement.
During her travels to Vancouver, Mayor Barb Desjardins has noticed new medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up throughout the city –— some nice, some not. Before anyone tries to do the same in Esquimalt, Desjardins wanted to make sure a policy was already in place.
“It’s harder to control after the fact than it is before the fact,” she said. “This is obviously an industry that is going to grow, despite the federal reality that it is currently illegal.”
Olga Liberchuk was the only councillor who proposed delaying the matter until the federal election was over, in case there was a change in government and legal policy.
“The reality of dispensaries is they are popping up and we need to deal with it in one way or another,” she said, noting Vancouver is working through a motion to ensure safeguards around the community.
“Vancouver is willing to do it, Victoria is willing to do it, White Rock is willing to do it, and I was hoping that we would be a little bit more open to it as well.”
According to a report to the township, the federal government’s current position is that storefronts or other businesses selling marijuana directly to the public are illegal. Anyone with the appropriate doctor’s approval is required to obtain the drug through facilities that have been approved by Health Canada.
Esquimalt officials have canvassed other municipalities in the region, noting most have taken the position that the activity is illegal and not allowed, therefore business licences will not be issued and anyone commencing operations will be forced to shut down.
The only exception in the region is the City of Victoria, which currently has approximately 20 such businesses operating. Most have submitted an application for a business licence, but the city has not issued any licences specifically for medical marijuana dispensaries.
A few, however, are operating with a licence that was issued due to the applicant representing its business in some other manner.
City officials are currently setting up a process to regulate the industry so it won’t be a free-for-all. Enforcement at this time is limited to responding to complaints related to the operating businesses, but so far the city hasn’t received many.
“Esquimalt is going in a different direction and quite frankly, I think it’s going to be very interesting to have two test cases that are very different literally side-by-side,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
In response to the growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries opening throughout B.C., communities have called for local authorities to regulate them. In late September, delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention voted in favour of a resolution that they have the power to regulate the dispensaries.
Esquimalt Coun. Tim Morrison said there needs to be uniform regulation across the country.
“The problem is being dropped on us at the local government level to deal with,” said Morrison. “It just ends up becoming a patch work approach with different municipalities having different approaches…It’s simply not our jurisdiction.”