Different city, different rules: Where do B.C. municipalities stand on legal pot sales?
While the federal government has taken the final step to legalizing marijuana as of Oct. 17, several municipalities in Metro Vancouver plan to shut out all retail sales, with many more take a wait-and-see approach.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth emphasized final that approval of where, when and how pot stores can operate in B.C. is up to municipal governments – and that includes the ability to block government-operated cannabis stores altogether.
“Government stores go through the same process as private liquor stores,” said Farnworth. “They'd have to get local approval, too.”
Farnworth also revealed that it’ll be provincial officials, not bylaw officers or police, tasked with monitoring pot shops to make sure they’re licensed, only selling government-approved and –purchased marijuana as well as following other federal and provincial guidelines.
“There will be an enforcement unit based in the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General whose job it'll be to go after illegal retail outlets, to be able to confiscate the product and they will get shut down," Farnworth said.
That includes pot shops flaunting local bylaws and operating where they’re not wanted, which is currently happening throughout the region.
The president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries is urging entre-pot-neurs to be respectful of the rules and start building relationships where they want to set up shop.
“It's clear now from the province you won't be eligible for a license unless you have municipal approval,” said Jeremy Jacob. “Being on the wrong side of your municipality is not the right way to establish a presence in this industry."
Jacob says the association has been quietly lobbying municipalities to endorse retail sales in their communities, working to address stereotypes and assumptions that could impact public policy. He says while some have been receptive, others have shut the door on discussions with his group.
“There are municipalities that, when I've reached out to them, have told me while they're in this regulatory decision-making phase about their bylaws, they don't want to cloud that process with input from stakeholders,” he said. “But really, this is the time when stakeholders should be engaged."
CTV News contacted municipalities throughout Metro Vancouver to see where they are in the regulatory process and whether they’re leaning towards allowing marijuana stores to operate.
Here's a look at where they stand:
ABBOTSFORD – no retail – Cannabis stores are currently banned in Abbotsford and the city has no plans to change that, but will hold public consultations and a survey that starts next week.
BURNABY – only government stores – Following public hearings, Burnaby plans to allow BC Cannabis Stores in each of the city’s four town centres.
COQUITLAM – waiting – The city’s website says officials are waiting for “the release of the final provincial regulations” before crafting a plan, with community feedback to follow.
LANGLEY TOWNSHIP - waiting / case-by-case – The Township says it’s waiting for more details from the province, but will consider retail recreational pot applications on a case-by-case basis.
MAPLE RIDGE – waiting – Officials say they’re waiting on more details from the province, including where BC Cannabis Stores is proposing locations. A total ban on retail is in effect until they decide how to move forward.
MISSION – no retail, maybe government – Mission has a ban on retail, warning any dispensaries that try to open in the meantime will be shut down immediately. Officials anticipate that if any storefronts are allowed, they would likely be government-operated and only after extensive consultation.
CITY OF NORTH VANCOUVER – waiting – City staff are starting working on a report that’ll go to council sometime in the fall.
DISTRICT OF NORTH VANCOUVER - recreational retail with restrictions – City staff have presented council with a report recommending recreational pot stores be allowed in commercial areas already zoned to allow liquor stores.
PITT MEADOWS – no retail, for now – Pitt Meadows plans to continue its ban on pot stores until the bugs are worked out, saying it “will be watching with great interest the various experiments of other communities as first adopters.”
PORT COQUITLAM - unclear – The city’s planning manager says staff are working on a report going to council in July, but wouldn’t reveal what option they’d recommend.
PORT MOODY – recreational retail with restrictions – Mayor Mike Clay told CTV News council just voted 4-3 in favour of retail pot shops with restrictions, but adds “we’re leaning toward a more restrictive model now and considering loosening it up later.”
RICHMOND – no retail – A staff report to council suggested “[maintaining] the existing prohibition on cannabis retail” and conducting public consultations.
VANCOUVER – retail with restrictions – Vancouver was the first city to begin regulating marijuana dispensaries, but has struggled to enforce its own bylaws as dozens of stores accept fines and continue to operate. The city is reassessing its requirements with a public hearing scheduled for June 26th, and officials note all dispensaries will need to apply for a new license from the province, with no guarantee those who’ve already paid $32,000 for a city license will be approved for a new provincial license.
With so many communities saying they’re waiting for details from the province before finalizing their plans, CTV News asked Farnworth when they could expect more details from him.
“They have a lot of tools right now,” he said. “We have the provincial framework in place and they’re able to [plan] right now.”