New day dawns as pot legal next week

Maple Ridge store has already applied for retail licence

Brett Steves with Hammond Compassion Society. (THE NEWS/files)

Brett Steves with Hammond Compassion Society. (THE NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge’ pot bylaw changes go back to council for third reading on Tuesday, a day before recreational marijuana becomes legal across Canada.

It’s a big change that’s being welcomed by the Hammond Compassion Society on Maple Crescent.

The store has applied to the B.C. Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch for a retail licence to sell recreational pot. That process also requires the review and approval of Maple Ridge council for each retail licence issued.

“We’ve already finished our application. The fate of the store is in the hands of city council,” said Brett Steves, with the compassion society.

The application process, which requires details about the size and layout of the store, was daunting, although branch staff have tried to do their best, he added.

“It was a very complicated and drawn-out process. Everything has to be exact.”

He’s optimistic the city will grant a licence.

“I think we’ve done a really good job, to be honest with you. The community, overall, has been positive. If you run a store with ethics and integrity and you’re honest in what you do, people appreciate that.”

Maple Ridge’s proposed new recreational retail pot bylaw, if approved by council, allows retail pot stores within the city’s commercial zones, providing there’s a kilometre distance between them and they’re not closer than 200 metres to a school.

Those bylaw changes get third reading on Oct. 16, but it will be up to the new Maple Ridge council, elected after Oct. 20, to give, or refuse, the fourth and final reading of the bylaw changes.

Under the new regime of legalized recreational pot, the province will supply retailers with marijuana products, as currently happens with booze.

That will mean a whole new range of pot products for the store. That will change things “exponentially,” said Steves.

“My biggest fear is that we’re going to lose the personal touch.”

New taxes on the product could also price some sick and low-income seniors out of the product, he added.

Steeves said his store will remain open after Oct. 17, when pot becomes legal across Canada. The civic election on Oct. 20 will delay the time in which the application reaches Maple Ridge council from the B.C. Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.

Steeves said, at some point, he’ll close his store and empty it of product, before a final inspection, prior to a retail licence possibly being approved. People have to be 19 years old to buy recreational pot.

Steeves expects that, slowly, the black market will go up in smoke as the government system is established.

“It’s inevitable,” he added.

“They have made it very clear that this is a monopoly and they own it.”

Maple Ridge Coun. Tyler Shymkiw is comfortable with council’s approach so far.

“I think we’ve taken the right approach by taking a cautious approach to it,” he said.

“You’re not going to eliminate much of the public safety impact by making people go to another community to buy marijuana.”

Shymkiw earlier had suggested the bylaw be amended to ban edible marijuana products from stores in Maple Ridge until there was more clarity around legalization, but that was voted down by the rest of council.

Bylaws director Robin MacNair said that, after Oct. 17, medical marijuana dispensaries will have to comply with provincial regulations and apply for a licence and be approved by the city in which they’re located.

Currently, the only legal way to get medical marijuana is through mail order, through licenced producers, she added.

MacNair hasn’t heard if the liquor branch plans to open a store in Maple Ridge. And even that requires city approval, she added.

It’s not certain how the province will enforce its legislation regarding stores that don’t get licences, although the province has said that it will set up community safety units that will fine stores that are not licenced and seize product.