(Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS) Brett Steeves, at Deacon Blues Dispensary in Hammond, would consult with the city. See video @ mapleridgenews.com

New city bylaw prohibits all pot sales

Prohibition is an interim measure until legalization

Maple Ridge council is in the process of passing a bylaw that will prohibit cannabis sales in city limits.

But Coun. Craig Speirs said council is taking the wrong approach, and he was outvoted 6-1.

The existing medicinal marijuana dispensaries will not be in compliance with the bylaw once it passes, said city manager of bylaws and licensing Robin MacNair.

“Federal legislation to legalize non-medical cannabis is expected to become law in July 2018. This provision to prohibit cannabis sales should be considered as an interim step until the provincial government has confirmed details regarding its approach to the retail sale of cannabis,” said a staff report.

“Most importantly, this measure is being used to prevent business operations from being set up in advance of the provincial retail model.”

The report said the bylaw will strengthen the ability of the licences and bylaws department to enforce prohibition of pot sales.

But Speirs said the city should be looking at where medicinal and recreational marijuana sales belong in the city.

“I think we should start putting together the business licensing regime, and see how we’re going to fit it in,” he said.

“Some of the stuff in the report was, I think, not on point.”

In particular, he took exception to a line that said: “It is important to consider that the creation of a private retail system could allow existing illegal dispensaries to transition to the legal system and become legal retailers.”

That’s what Speirs thinks should happen.

“I don’t see that as a problem – I think we’re going to need folks who know what they’re doing, and have experience in this venue,” he said.

“There’s good advice to be had in the present dispensaries.”

Speirs said council should not be attempting to shut down the existing dispensaries, which have clients with a variety of health issues, from chronic pain to seizures.

Speirs said Taggs Dispensary, which has been in operation in downtown Maple Ridge since 2010, has now served 4,500 clients.

“The market is huge – people don’t understand it, because it’s a shadow market.”

Maple Ridge staff said the new bylaw is consistent with legal advice offered at the 2017 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, and noted that other cities are going in the same direction.

Council gave the bylaw amendment first and second reading on Jan. 30, and the issue will now go to public hearing on Feb. 20.

Mayor Nicole Read said dispensaries are popping up across the Lower Mainland. Maple Ridge now has three. A retail outlet has also opened on Dewdney Trunk Road, but assured the city that it is not selling pot.

Read said business people are trying to get their stores established before legalization.

“These dispensaries are trying to get to the front of the line,” she said. “From a sale-of-cannabis perspective, they have no business licence to do that.”

She said the city has been approached by more business people interested in starting retail outlets, but it is waiting to see the regulatory framework.

If some of the existing operations do not comply with the regulations and zoning requirements set out by the city, “they’re done,” said Read.

“If they are dispensing now, they are not doing so legally.”

Brett Steeves of the Hammond Compassion Society, which distributes marijuana from its Maple Crescent store, does not expect senior governments to shut down dispensaries.

He said the city did not consult the dispensaries about the new bylaw, but he is willing to have a conversation about what is happening in the medicinal marijuana industry.

Last week, the government announced that current marijuana retailers will be eligible to apply for licences.

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