Legal marijuana is now forcing local governments to look at how to deal with requests for licences. File photo/Black Press

Strathcona Regional District wants air cleared on legal pot

Province says local governments need to respond to licence requests

Legal changes around marijuana across the country earlier this month are forcing local governments to clear the air on how they respond to licence requests.

RELATED STORY: Confusion in Campbell River on first day of cannabis legalization

At the SRD board meeting on Oct. 25, Area B Director Noba Anderson said she hoped the board could get some kind of direction around the sale of non-medicinal marijuana, saying it had already been an issue at the level of her electoral area’s advisory planning commission. She was responding to a letter from the provincial government about its ability as of Oct. 17 to issue licences.

“This letter has some mixed language around local government,” she said.

Specifically, the questions of language were around terms of municipalities versus local government, which could include electoral areas.

“I’m not yet sure what will happen when, in a rural area, somebody wants to sell non-medical cannabis in the stores,” she said.

Area C Director Jim Abram reiterated Anderson’s question around “municipality” versus “local government” adding that municipal governments do have more powers through zoning or business licensing whereas unincorporated areas do not have business licensing as a means of control. He wanted to know whether the SRD would have zoning or something to act as a “check and balance.”

Area D Director Brenda Leigh’s understanding was the plan will work similarly to liquor licence applications with the local government asked to comment.

“I think it’s going to be the same,” she said. “I think it’s not going to be very onerous for us to administer, and I don’t think it’s going to be very controversial.”

Area A Director Gerald Whalley pointed out the province’s letter says local governments can choose not to make any recommendations for cannabis retail store licences but this effectively ends any licence application in process. As the province’s letter states, this is because the province cannot issue a licence unless local government makes a positive recommendation.

Sayward’s board representative, Mayor John MacDonald, said he preferred any requests be referred to the SRD’s Electoral Areas Services Committee rather than the full SRD board, though he made no attempt to hide his feelings about the new laws around marijuana.

“I know as far as I’m concerned, the Village of Sayward will never have somebody selling pot,” he said. “I disbelieve in it. I think it’s crap, the worst law to ever come in, but anyways, that’s me.”

Anderson brought up the point Abram had made about zoning, saying Cortes Island is in the process of updating the zoning bylaw and had put off the issue, which Anderson said is no longer wise.

“Now that it’s a legal regime, I think we can have a much better, open discussion with our communities around where we want to be allowing on both production and sale,” she added.

Some directors like Leigh and Gold River Mayor Brad Unger felt that much of the sales will happen online rather than storefront operations in small rural communities, meaning local governments would have little control.

“It’s just not financially viable to be operating a single-use store, I don’t think, in Area D,” Leigh said.

One of the Campbell River directors, Ron Kerr said city council changed its zoning and business licensing to be in line with senior governments and also to address their own concerns.

RELATED STORY: Interested in opening a cannabis store? City to process applications through provincial referral

He questioned as to whether EASC should make a decision unilaterally for proposals in electoral areas, because of the potential for applicants to set up near the boundary with a municipality.

“Certainly, I think there should be some kind of discussion because it does have implications within a few metres of our municipality,” he said.

Anderson made a subsequent motion for staff to draft a policy based on best practices for the support or non-support of non-medical cannabis retail sales and for the planning department to develop a rural area-wide update to all zoning bylaws concerning the legalization of cannabis both for production and sale.

The issue will also be on the agenda for the next EASC meeting set for Nov. 7.