The province’s newly announced approach to recreational cannabis sales will help municipalities like Victoria bring some order to a difficult and challenging situation, according to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
On Monday, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth confirmed plans for a mixed retail model for recreational cannabis, once the product has been formally legalized by the federal government. That legalization has been promised for June of 2018.
Farnworth’s plans calls for the sale of marijuana to be done in shops dedicated to that purpose. The rules would restrict those shops from selling cannabis alongside any other products including food, cigarettes, lottery tickets or gas. The province has chosen not to include marijuana sales within public liquor stores.
The licensing of these retail outlets will lie solely with the provincial government, a move that will provide relief to municipalities like Victoria that are struggling to regulate existing pot dispensaries through a mixture of business licenses and zoning regulations.
“Honestly, this can’t come soon enough,” said Helps, speaking of the takeover of licensing by the province.
“It takes it out of our hands on a regulatory basis and turns over that enforcement to the province. It would be like trying to open a bar without a provincial license to do so – the province would shut you down pretty quickly.”
That’s not to say that the municipality will relinquish all control over where cannabis shops will operate.
The B.C. Private Retail Guide published by the province reads, “For the Province to issue a licence, applicants must have the support of the local government in the community where the proposed store would be located.”
“We would still have the right to restrict the zoning of the shops to make sure they’re not too close to a school – restrictions like that,” Helps said. “As I understand it, without our approval they wouldn’t get a license and if they operate without a license, the province steps in to enforce the law.”
Within Victoria, the existing onus on civic enforcement has led to recent court challenges and some inconsistencies in regulations.
In one case last week, the City was granted a court injunction that led to the shuttering of the Green Dragon Medicinal Society Dispensary on Herald Street, an operation that was found to be located closer to a school than allowed by City regulations. Another marijuana dispensary, immediately next door to the Green Dragon location, continued to operate in lieu of another injunction being issued for that location.
Even the fines issued by Victoria bylaw officers to non-compliant pot shops have been challenged at every turn, requiring the City to face court appeals of the fines.
“(With new provincial regulations) people will have to realize that this is a serious industry. By taking the enforcement out of our hands, the province will help to demonstrate that,” said Helps.