Council continues with bylaw amendment banning marijuana dispensaries

City council is going ahead with making medical marijuana dispensaries illegal in Campbell River but it may still leave the door open to exceptions.

A bylaw amendment prohibiting all marijuana operations – including dispensaries – unless legally permitted through Health Canada, was given third reading by council at its Monday meeting. That puts the bylaw just one step away from adoption which could happen in as soon as two weeks.

Kevin Brooks, the city’s development services supervisor, confirmed Monday that the bylaw amendment was recommended to city staff by local RCMP.

Coun. Michele Babchuk asked Brooks whether giving third reading to the amendment would close the door completely on medical marijuana dispensaries or if other options could still be pursued.

“Are we losing the opportunity to come up with options to create a Campbell River solution?” Babchuk asked. “I understand the legislation is not there, we’re dealing with the legalities of it.”

Brooks said that council can still re-open discussions around medical marijuana use and that, in fact, those discussions will come up again as the federal government has announced it will be moving to legalize marijuana use next year.

“The bylaw effectively adds a definition to the bylaw and prohibits that use within our community. It does not preclude use from other considerations in enabling some of this through controls like temporary use permits or something of that nature,” Brooks said.

Coun. Charlie Cornfield pointed out that the bylaw does in fact read, ‘Marijuana operations are prohibited unless expressly permitted by this bylaw.’

He said that means it allows council, at any time, to take another look at the bylaw.

Coun. Larry Samson asked city staff to look into the possibility of issuing temporary use permits for dispensaries and to report back to council by August.

“Not saying we’re going to go this way but get a report back from staff and see where it goes,” Samson said.

With a temporary use permit, an applicant – in this case a dispensary operator – can apply to the city to consider a property use that’s not permitted in the city’s zoning bylaw. Each application would be evaluated individually by city staff through a legislative process and then passed on to council for final approval.

Brooks, in a report to council prior to Monday’s meeting, did caution council that the RCMP does not support the city pursuing temporary use permits or zoning bylaw amendments to permit dispensaries until federal legislation changes.

“In some communities this enforcement has led to injunctive action resulting in increased legal costs, and the city may be placed in a challenging legal situation if it chooses to permit these uses under a TUP (temporary use permit) or zoning bylaw amendment,” Brooks wrote in the report. “It should be noted that neither of these options would legalize the sale of marijuana, and the RCMP would maintain the jurisdiction and the latitude to follow-up with enforcement to shut down these operations at their discretion until such time the Federal Criminal Law is changed.”

Council was prompted by the RCMP to address the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries after two popped up in the city in early April. Operating in the absence of any federal legislation, the dispensaries caught the eye of local RCMP who raided both Trees and WeeMedical dispensaries last month.