The Town of Osoyoos is moving forward with plans to individually review applications for cannabis retail locations, but it will have at best secondary input on outlet applications just outside of town.
The question of regulating stores on the outskirts of the community came up at a public hearing Monday evening on a zoning bylaw amendment that would allow Council to approve “a rezoning application for Cannabis Sales as a site-specific permitted use” in Downtown Commercial, Shopping Centre Commercial and Highway Commercial zones.
Just a handful of Osoyans turned out for the meeting, which was moved to the Sonora Centre from Council chambers and scheduled for an evening start to accommodate what was expected to be an interested community.
One of those who did turn up, however, was Brian Harvey, a Council candidate and local lawyer. He asked if the Town was working with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen to ensure consistency among local government partners.
“What about the regional district and dovetailing or clashing with what’s going on with the regional district?” he asked. “Have there been consultations?”
Mayor Sue McKortoff, who sits on the Regional District’s board, replied “there isn’t something specific set,” adding the Regional District is “really just a subdivision surrounding the municipality and there isn’t a central (government).”
Much of the regional district land bordering the Town of Osoyoos is zoned agricultural, but “there are some pockets of commercial just north of the town,” said Brad Dollevoet, the Regional District’s Development Services manager.
“We had a good discussion with our board,” he said of cannabis retailing. “We threw out the option of restricting (sales) throughout the regional district, but the board actually went the other way. They said they want to not discourage different forms of small business if it’s done legitimately.
“They want to evaluate these on a case-by-case basis and determine if its going to be the right fit for the area and the right type of operation.”
The “right fit” for a commercial operation near Osoyoos, for example, might be a Hwy. 97 property located just north of town that currently is home to a derelict take-out restaurant — and the site of one of the Town’s welcome signs.
But while commercial opportunities are limited within the Regional District, there appears to be more potential for agricultural-based operations, both inside and outside of Town.
The BC government has provided local governments permission to prevent marijuana production on Agricultural Land Reserves within their communities — but with conditions.
A regulatory change in July that allows local governments to prevent industrial-style, cement-based and cannabis-production bunkers from being built in their communities also confirms cannabis production in the ALR cannot be prohibited if it’s grown lawfully in an open field, in a structure that is soil-based, or in an existing licensed operation.
That, coupled with Section 3(1) of the Agricultural Land Reserve, Use, Subdivision and Procedure Regulations language, could potentially allow for a “home-based business” that is considered “compatible with agriculture and has low impacts on the land base.”
Currently, “farm stand sales are not permitted under the retail licensing regime at this time.” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture after consultation with a colleague in the Ministry of Public Safety.
But, as public attitudes change and marijuana cultivation and use become more accepted and normalized, that restriction could be eased — just as it has for the sale of property-produced wines, spirits and ciders.
A farm-gate or home-based business within the ALR does not have to be linked directly to agriculture but a cannabis outlet would still require a provincial application and a referral to the local government for comment.
Part of that referral process, said Mr. Dollevoet, would be to invite interested neighbours to participate in the discussion.
“When we do the public consultation piece, we’ll be engaging the Town as well as the Ministry of Transportation if it’s along the highway and any agencies that we think are going to be impacted by the proposal,” he explained.
“If it’s within the vicinity of the Town of Osoyoos — that could include almost anything within Electoral Area ‘A’ — we would provide a circulation to the Town.”
He added the Regional District hasn’t received any referrals yet, “but we’ll probably get some shortly after that October 17 date.”
Policing cannabis retailers would also be a provincial responsibility, he added.
“The province is going to be the one issuing the licences. They’re going to be the ones most interested in bringing those stores into conformance with their provincial requirements.
“They’ve got a financial incentive to shut those places down.”
Mr. Harvey’s question Monday evening did bring concern from Council.
“Bordertown Wineries is technically out of town and we didn’t hear about it until after it was built,” noted Coun. Jim King.
Coun. CJ Rhodes added the Town was “leading the charge” when it came to constructing legislation for cannabis retailing.
“Many, many communities have not even kick-started their program or even advanced to the basics of this process yet,” he said. “We are way down the road and many communities haven’t even started yet.”
Leading the charge? Yes. Having all the answers? Not yet.
This is a work in process — work that will continue long after a new council is seated in November.