Marijuana legalization is coming to Canada on Oct. 17, but it won’t be legally sold in Pitt Meadows.
City council has a bylaw in process that will ban retail marijuana outlets from the city.
The bylaw received first and second readings on Tuesday night at the regular meeting of council, and is scheduled to go to public hearing on Oct. 2.
Coun. Bill Dingwall, who is a race for mayor against incumbent John Becker, said he would not be opposed to a government marijuana outlet in the city, run by the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.
“I’m not opposed to a government-run retail outlet, and I’m looking forward to hearing from our citizens in the public hearing coming up on that,” said Dingwall. “The federal government legalized marijuana. There is no prohibition now in Canada, and no criminality attached to it.
He said a government-run retail outlet provides quality control of the product, security and checking the age of buyers. He said convenience is a legitimate objective, and his neighbours used medical marijuana during cancer treatment.
“If everyone in the Lower Mainland banned retail sales, that flies in the face of the federal government and the decision the federal government made with respect to marijuana,” said Dingwall.
“A big one from me is it keeps organized crime out. That’s really important,” added the retired RCMP officer.
Dingwall said he would like to hear from citizens about that issue.
Becker said the city should move slowly on the issue.
“I’m in no rush to look at retail cannabis. Maple Ridge is going to be moving on that very quickly. Maple Ridge is 10 minutes away,” said Becker.
“There are lots of things that are legal that we decide as a community we don’t want in our community – pawns shops, payday loans and cannabis dispensaries,” added Becker. “It is no accident that we do not have any cannabis dispensaries in Pitt Meadows.
“I am happy to let other communities make all the mistakes for the next 18 to 24 months,” said Becker. “Then if we want to go down that road, fine, we can pick some best practices.”
The new bylaw is to “regulate the production, processing, drying, storing, packaging, and distribution only of cannabis within the Agricultural Land Reserve and to prohibit the production, processing, drying, storing, packaging, distribution, and retail sales of cannabis in all other areas of the city.”
The staff report notes cannabis production could take place in the ALR in Pitt Meadows in an open field, in new structures that have a soil base, or in existing greenhouses. It notes there are 17 greenhouses in the city that could be converted to cannabis production.
The bylaws provide for criminal record checks, unscheduled inspections by the city, requirements for odour control, and the annual business licence fee for cannabis production will be $5,000.
Coun. Mike Stark of the large licence fee: “Does that fairly represent the cost to the city of administering that licence?”
Lisa Grant, manager of community development, responded that it is consistent with fees in Abbotsford and Langley Township, to recover costs for enforcement, inspections and police time.
Coun. Janis Elkerton noted that while the provincial and federal governments have agreed to split marijuana tax revenues 75-25 per cent respectively, municipalities have not been cut in on the deal.
“Municipalities get nothing,” said Elkerton. “We’re left with the enforcement issues and ongoing problems with this.”
She said the city should add its voice to the municipal lobby for a share of funding.
Dingwall supported all of the regulations concerning production on farmland.
Becker said the Agricultural Land Commission has five enforcement officers for all of B.C.
“So the chances of us having an effective enforcement branch here – I think we have to assume it will be zero,” said Becker.
“I spoke to a lot of mayors at the mayor’s caucus at UBCM [Union of B.C. Municipalities convention] and not one of them were in any way satisfied with the Health Canada inspection and enforcement process for the existing medical marijuana producers,” he added. “So as a community, we can have zero faith in Health Canada to protect our community about the consequences of cannabis.”
Elkerton noted there have been warnings the U.S. may ban people involved in the marijuana industry from travelling to the U.S., where it is still considered a controlled substance by the federal government.
“Gee, and I’d be wondering if councillors who supported a store here in Pitt Meadows would be banned from travelling because they’re promoting the industry,” asked Elkerton.
“I don’t think we need to go down that path,” said Becker.