Local government’s role in dealing with the legalization of marijuana was a hot-button issue at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Conference in Vancouver on Sept. 25-29.
Because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize marijuana by July 2018, federal, provincial and munipal goverments are racing to address the issue.
Cariboo Regional District (CRD) chair Al Richmond voices concerns about lack of consultation and the need for local government having a say about where the shops are located.
UBCM and local governments have been lobbying for consultation meetings for the past couple of years, Richmond says, adding the federal government has not been consulting with them at all.
“Vancouver proves that when they put distribution shops in places where they’ve had public consultation and the people in those areas agree, it can be successful.
“But if you put it in an area and the people who are running these distribution shops don’t have to comply with local zoning because they don’t have to pay any attention to it, it puts them in locations where the neighbours may not want to have it.”
Richmond notes local governments want to put these shops where people can largely expect to see this type of activity and not in areas where children are exposed to marijuana because “we have to keep it out of the hands of minors.”
The CRD chair says it’s like any other commercial venture. It goes through a rezoning process for a zone that allows that type of business.
He adds they wouldn’t allow a government liquor store next to a school.
“Right now, the rules and regulations don’t require them to have to comply with zoning and that’s what local governments are saying, ‘you need to talk to us about where this stuff is going’.
“At least the community can say, ‘yes, that’s fine to have that store there. It’s good; we approved our Official Community Plan; that’s an allowable use under this zone. Or whatever process they want to go through.”
While the feds have had meetings with the country’s provincial governments, at the conference UBCM put forward Resolution SR1, that states there has been limited consultation between the British Columbia government in terms of developing and implementing a B.C. framework with municipal governments.
The UBCM board noted it’s likely any provincial framework would have a significant portion of regulatory burden and the associated costs, such as compliance and enforcement, placed on the shoulders of municipal governments.
At the convention, the UBCM membership was asked to endorse four principles to guide UBCM advocacy with the provincial government regarding local government’s role in a B.C. framework for cannabis:
• fulsome and meaningful provincial consultation with local governments;
• provision of adequate provincial funding to cover any responsibilities and increase in administrative burden of any provincial framework that requires local government participation;
• equitable sharing of tax revenues from cannabis between all orders of government; and
• respect for local choice, jurisdiction and authority, including but not limited to land use and zoning decisions.
Richmond says he thinks it’s important the provincial is going to do a joint task force and have meetings with local government and UBCM involvement to ensure local government is at that table when they’re making these decisions.
He adds the timeline is very short because the federal government is talking about having the marijuana legalization process in place by July 2018, “so the time to get this job done is coming pretty quick.”
Richmond says the resolution passed without much opposition.
The CRD chair notes Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced at UBCM that the NDP government would actively engage with local governments and UBCM to have discussions about the legalization of marijuana and its impact.
It affects other groups, such as policing, so you have to take those factors into consideration when you’re doing it, Richmond explains.
“So with the production of medical marijuana – that’s what they were talking about at the time – the government finally said we could put it in a zone.
“The regional district zoned our industrial zone to be the areas to be used for the cultivation of marijuana. Because it was going to be legal use, they had to have criteria around developing how it would operated, so we created a zone for it.
“Our reluctance was to have in an agricultural zone because it’s too rural, too far away from policing and many other things that you might want to have.
“In an industrial area, however, people can anticipate warehouse activities because that was what these were going to be in that type of area.”
Now local governments and UBCM await the call from the provincial government to iron out their framework for the legalization of marijuana.