September 07, 2016 - 3:15 PM
PENTICTON - Penticton City Council broke new ground for the Okanagan yesterday after agreeing to create regulations for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
Planning manager Blake Laven presented councillors with a number of potential routes the city could take regarding the subject at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday afternoon, Sept.6.
Council, after hearing three different possible avenues marijuana dispensaries, agreed to move forward with establishing regulations to allow the shops to operate until a federal decision is made, possibly as early as next spring.
Council’s decision puts Penticton on the forefront in terms of licensing marijuana dispensaries ahead of federal legalization. While several other municipalities in B.C. have already done so, including Vancouver, Victoria, Squamish, and Port Alberni, Penticton would be the first Okanagan community to license dispensaries.
The main issue surrounds the potential legalization of marijuana and what regulations will be put in place when that happens. Laven told council the industry was currently in a state of flux as dispensaries currently operating are doing so illegally, but at the same time, it seemed inevitable legalization would soon be a reality.
Laven looked at several different B.C. communities, coming up with three potential approaches to the dilemma, based on other municipalities which had either taken a “hard line” approach, in prohibiting storefront sales of marijuana and enforcement of non-compliance, or had made amendments to zoning to allow sales of marijuana products. A third option involved taking no action whatsoever to regulate operating dispensaries, waiting until federal legislation has occurred.
Laven noted Penticton had so far taken a hard line stance toward the issue, adding two of four dispensaries in town continued to operate in violation of city orders.
Laven said of the municipalities studied, the ones that made some accommodation to allow sales to continue seemed to have had the most success in getting businesses to operate within municipal laws.
Laven suggested the city contemplate such regulations as limiting hours of operation, age restrictions for purchase, a distance rule between dispensaries, minimum staffing of two, and a $5,000 first year business license fee, dropping to $2,500 annually to cover increased legal and city staff time.
Council’s concerns included possible risks involved in going ahead with municipal legislation that may not mirror what federal laws look like when legalization takes place.
“Who will be responsible for making operations legal when that happens? asked Coun. Helena Konanz, to which Laven responded it would likely be up to the federal government.
Coun. Campbell Watt asked who would be responsible for licensing standards of dispensary operators and staff. Laven said the industry was working at creating a standard, but there was nothing official yet and “not a lot of best practises out there.”
Next steps include further public consultation and staff work to begin work on changes to zoning bylaws. Dispensaries will be able to apply for temporary use permits to operate under the coming guidelines, as long as any outstanding fines related to the issue are paid first.
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