Saanich waiting on pot details

Province asks public for input on pot as legalization approaches

Saanich continues to take a wait-and-see approach regarding the pending legalization of recreational marijuana.

Delegates at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention including Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell heard Monday that the province will consult the public on aspects of marijuana legalization that fall under the province’s control.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth made the announcement some two weeks after he met federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and other provincial ministers to discuss the pending legalization of recreational marijuana scheduled for July 1, 2018.

While Ottawa governs the licensing, production, testing and quality control of recreational marijuana, provinces are responsible for distribution and retail sales.

Farnworth Monday said the consultation will continue until Nov. 1 in promising that the province will listen to municipalities and their respective concerns. “One size does not fit all,” said Farnworth, noting the opinions of cities outside of the Lower Mainland are often overlooked when senior governments implement new policies. Municipalities have since confirmed their desire to have a say.

Ultimately, this development could mean that different municipalities will have different retail rules once recreational marijuana becomes legal.

Farnworth also used his speech to defend the pace of the implementation. “We are doing everything we can to make sure we meet the July timeline,” he said.

Atwell however struck a more pessimistic note. “The general feeling in the room after the announcement was that most municipalities in [British Columbia] are not ready for the federal changes and it appears neither is the province as no staff were made available after the announcement,” said Atwell.

While Saanich can look to Victoria and Vancouver for bylaw examples, it really needs to understand what the regulatory framework will look like and work from there, said Atwell.

Farnworth’s suggestion that municipalities could set their own rules raises the possibility of a regulatory patchwork across the Greater Victoria.

A preview of this prospect is already available. While the City of Victoria has allowed dispensaries and compassion clubs to operate outside existing federal rules on the premise that a future regulatory framework would accommodate them, Langford has resolutely resisted such a laissez-faire approach. This reality has pushed would-be customers from the West Shore into Victoria, a phenomenon with the potential to affect Saanich as well, since at least two dispensaries ply their products directly at or near the border with Saanich.

Saanich, meanwhile, has no immediate plans to allow such enterprises as legalization approaches.

“Saanich is aware of possible changes to federal legislation that could take effect in July 2018,” said Kelsie McLeod, a Saanich spokesperson in an earlier interview. “Staff will continue to monitor federal changes and note any potential impacts for [council] to consider.”

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