By Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps
Downloading of responsibilities from senior levels of government to municipalities is a big concern for local governments and property taxpayers alike. Over the past two years city council has been forced, once again, to push the limit of what counts as a municipal issue and step in to regulate cannabis dispensaries.
Many people wonder why and how the city is regulating dispensaries rather than just closing them down. What is the ‘grey-area?’ Isn’t the law black and white?
With the emergence of cannabis storefronts in the city, police investigated, made arrests and recommended charges to federal Crown counsel. This came on the heels of changes to federal regulations regarding access to medical cannabis. When the issue of access to medical cannabis went to the Supreme Court of Canada, it was determined that the burden of proof was not as simple as proving the act of trafficking. It had to be proven that cannabis was being sold for recreational use and not for medicinal use. As a result, charges were dropped on more than one occasion.
We realized that while the courts were grappling with the issue of access to medical cannabis and until the law was clarified by the highest court or the federal government, the likelihood of obtaining convictions for trafficking from a storefront was tenuous at best. We also started to hear from patients, including many seniors, who needed access to medicine.
In response to these concerns, the city put in place a regulatory regime using the tools it has as a local government — our zoning bylaw and business licence bylaw.
Dispensaries are required to have on-site security systems, ventilations systems, criminal records check for the applicant and on-site manager, ban consumption on the premises, prohibit minors, have on-site video cameras and a minimum of two staff present at all times.
In addition, each dispensary is required to apply for a rezoning. This is a public process which ends with a formal opportunity for public comment at a public hearing before council makes a decision.
To date, 29 dispensaries have applied for rezoning applications. Eleven have not. Thanks to the owners of the 29 dispensaries for playing by the rules and coming into compliance with the city’s regulations. For those who have not yet applied, I am getting impatient and the city will be taking action.
On July 1, 2018 federal legislation legalizing cannabis comes into effect. Before then, the city will work with the province, which is in charge of coming up with a distribution regime, and share our learnings from the process to date. And, as soon as provincial and federal legislation comes into effect, the city’s regulatory regime will be reviewed and adjusted if needed.
This change cannot come soon enough. We look forward to handing this issue back to the higher levels of government so we can continue to focus on what are properly municipal issues.