By ROY WOOD
The Town of Osoyoos is pushing ahead with a bylaw that bans retail sale of marijuana — including through medical dispensaries — pending clarification of a federal position on medical sales and the promised legalization of recreational pot use.
Just ahead of a public hearing on the bylaw Monday, Council approved an August 9 special public meeting to vote on third reading of the bylaw. First and second readings were approved on July 4.
At Monday’s public hearing, the preponderance of presentations was from advocates in favour of allowing the retail sale of medical marijuana.
Owners of two outlets engaged in the delivery of medical marijuana told Council they’re different from “street-level” drug dealers.
“We are not street-level drug dealers who just give you a bag of weed and send you on your way,” said Nixon Zaye, who with partner Kyle Hauptman founded the Numbered Club.
“We’re not that; we are educated.”
An industry partner also speaking to Council said denying business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries will mean more “black market” sales by those dealers.
“By pushing this type of facility out of town, you’re just giving the black market an open book,” said Grant Bruce, who opened a Starbuds franchise in town earlier this spring.
“There’s not one black-market dealer that’s going to ask a kid for ID. I will.”
Last September, Union of British Columbia Municipalities delegates voted to assert their authority to regulate marijuana dispensaries through business licensing.
Vancouver was the first city in Canada to approve regulation of its marijuana dispensaries. It requires a $30,000 license fee and a dispensary to locate a minimum 300 metres from schools, community centres and each other.
Since then, West Kelowna and Kimberley have issued licenses to medical marijuana businesses.
“Port Alberni was the second to implement dispensary specific licensing, and both Victoria and Nanaimo staff are currently working on dispensary regulations,” said Jamie Shaw, interim president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.
“Squamish and Sechelt have both been looking the issue closely as well, and cities like Burnaby have said they’re going watch the Vancouver process before deciding.”
Mr. Bruce spoke about the Squamish process and said he would welcome similar conditions for the Osoyoos community, including substantial licensing fees and zoning and security requirements.
The decision to set an August 9 special meeting was in keeping with recommendations from planning director Alain Cunningham, who urged Council to “(move) ahead expeditiously” in order to:
- Allow council to focus on a long-range, community-based approach to marijuana retailing;
- Reinforce bylaw enforcement and RCMP efforts to control “any proliferating pressures for opening illegal outlets;”
- Head off legal challenges that come from existing outlets claiming to have status under a “legal non-conforming” use; and
- Offer clear town messaging to help businesses with their short- and long-term planning.
The bylaw would be a temporary measure that would expressly prohibit all marijuana operations, although it would not apply to medical marijuana grow operations already allowed with the Town’s M1- General Industrial zoning.
It anticipates a decision by the federal government in August “liberalizing medical marihuana regulations that could legalize retail outlets for sales to medical recipients” and a “broader legalization of marihuana for recreational users expected later next year.”
Mark Conlin, an advocate with Sensible BC, attended from West Kelowna and suggested Council’s application of the bylaw might warrant a Charter of Rights challenge.
Several residents did speak in favour of the bylaw, including David Fahlman.
“Keep illegal dealers out of the (town) and do not give them the facade of being businessmen until such time as the law is changed by the federal government,” he encouraged Council.
— with files from Andrew Stuckey