Council split on pre-emptive pot store ban

By ROY WOOD

The town of Osoyoos has taken preemptive action against potential marijuana retailers despite objections from two councillors who believe the move is premature and could be seen as intolerant.

On the recommendation of planning director Alain Cunningham, council passed a bylaw amendment Monday saying: “Marijuana operations are prohibited unless expressly permitted” by the zoning bylaws.

Marijuana operations are defined as: “The cultivation, growth, harvesting, processing, packaging, storage, distribution, dispensing, trading or selling of cannabis … or its derivatives.”

At issue are the impending changes to the legalities surrounding both medical and recreational use of marijuana.

In August, according to Mr. Cunningham’s report, the federal government will bring in new medical marijuana regulations, which could legalize storefront retail outlets.

As well, Ottawa has undertaken a study on how to implement its election promise to legalize recreational pot use. A report is expected next spring.

Given the uncertainty, the town’s lawyers have recommended against putting policies and regulations in place before the legal landscape is fully defined. Further, they recommended an “interim holding measure” along the lines that Cunningham proposed. He described it Monday as a “temporary and transitional zoning amendment bylaw.”

Councillor Mike Campol described the proposal as premature:

”We are getting ahead of creating a zoning bylaw when we don’t even have a clear understanding of what the business model of medical marijuana sales will look like, what rules will apply to it what controls be in place.”

He said he has researched the subject intensively and simply doesn’t see the need for the pre-emptive action. He said some of the senior citizen population of Osoyoos are likely among the leading users of medical pot.

“I don’t see the sale of medical marijuana as a negative.”

Mr. Cunningham’s report noted among the community implications of retail marijuana operations:

“The proliferation of marijuana outlets could seriously impact the attractiveness of our downtown and other public areas with consequent repercussions for the health of other local businesses, our tourist industry and the retirement market and the development and real estate sectors.”

Councillor CJ Rhodes took issue with Mr. Cunningham’s report and agreed with Campol: “I don’t want to engage in something that sends out a message of intolerance.”

Counc. Rhodes said the town already has the tools to deal with any situation that might arise. If someone applies for a business licence, the town can simply say no. And if they decide to open an illegal store, “The RCMP should be the ones to challenge this.”

He added that medical marijuana stores in other provinces that he has seen are “very, very attractive stores … they are clean, well run, the people are very friendly.”

Councillor Carol Youngberg supported the staff recommendation. “There were a couple of retail outlets that have already been set up and has been difficulty with them … I think moving forward we need more strength in the planning department” to deal with the situation.

She said anyone who needs and has a prescription for medical marijuana can already buy it “without having a store front in Osoyoos.”

Mayor Sue McKortoff also defended the recommendation. “This is just being pro-active on our part to make sure the zoning that comes in is what we choose, like we do with liquor stores or movable food carts.”

Mr. Cunningham said that as Councillors Campol and Rhodes pointed out, the situation is uncertain.

“As a professional planner I would always recommend … that in situations of uncertainty you proceed with due prudence.

“And, after all, we’re only going to be waiting for a month or two before we get the information from the federal government and council has the opportunity … to come up with a made in Osoyoos solution for what they want to see happen in this town.”

The first two readings of the bylaw amendment passed 3-2 with councillors Campol and Rhodes against and councillors McKortoff, Youngberg and Councillor Jim King in favour.

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