Three B.C. cities want Ottawa to share revenue of prospective marijuana tax

Three municipalities in British Columbia want a stake in any tax revenue that the federal government collects from the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana plants are pictured during a tour of Tweed Inc. in Smiths Falls, Ont. on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

VANCOUVER - Three municipalities in British Columbia want a stake in any tax revenue that the federal government collects from the legalization of marijuana.

Nelson, Duncan and Prince George put forward resolutions to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities asking it to put pressure on higher levels of government to ensure tax sharing with municipalities is considered by the federal task force investigating marijuana legalization and regulation.

With eight dispensaries open in Nelson, Mayor Deb Kozak said determining how to regulate and monitor the technically illicit businesses has required considerable city and police resources.

"There is a real cost attached to that and we are not realizing any revenues from (the marijuana) industry at this time," Kozak said.

The federal government established a task force to create new legislation and regulation on marijuana that is expected to be announced next spring.

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said the lack of certainty on the new laws has, in the meantime, left municipalities to create different local bylaws and licenses in order to control the dispensaries popping up in their communities.

Although the city of Duncan opted to prohibit dispensaries until the federal legislation is announced, Kent said local governments should be compensated with tax revenue if they have to shoulder some of the burden of regulating the industry.

The tax would also fund cities' overall budgets that are largely dependent on property taxes.

Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun said the city struggles to afford the growing needs of their local RCMP and a new tax stream would offset those costs.

Through the collective representation of the union, cities stand a chance of negotiating a marijuana tax scheme to ensure local services will benefit from legalization, Skakun said.

The city of Nelson also put forward a call for the union of municipalities to request the federal government consult and co-ordinate with local authorities while developing new federal legislation on marijuana.

Nelson does not issue business licenses to its operating marijuana dispensaries, Kozak said, but the city would have to reconsider licensing schemes and other local bylaws when legalization happens.

As part of its resolution to the union, Nelson wants the federal government to give local authorities enough time to align local regulations with a new federal law.

"Whatever the federal government decides to do will have deep impacts on local governments in how we have these businesses in our communities," Kozak said.

In 2015, the union supported the position that local governments have the authority to regulate marijuana dispensaries and called on the federal government to include marijuana derivatives as part of the legal medical marijuana program.

Members will be debating and voting on the resolutions at the organization's annual convention at the end of September in Victoria.

If the resolutions are endorsed, the union will put their requests to the federal government. The union's resolution committee has recommended members endorse what the cities are requesting.

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