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News Views: Opportunity lost

Local governments control land use and zoning for cannabis stores.
Pitt council wants to ban retail marijuana outlets in the city. (Photo creative commons

The sale of recreational marijuana will be legal in Canada as of Oct. 17.

The B.C. government has decided that, initially, only one brick-and-mortar store will open then, in Kamloops – in addition to an online store.

No matter, no such facility will open in Pitt Meadows.

Local governments control land use and zoning for cannabis stores and can cap the number of licences they issue, as well as their hours of operation, or ban them outright.

Pitt council decided this past week to initiate a bylaw to do just that, ban retail marijuana outlets in the city. It goes to public hearing Oct. 2, several weeks before the municipal election.

Coun. Bill Dingwall, a former RCMP officer who is running for mayor, isn’t opposed to the retail sale of marijuana in the city, if run by the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch, as a government-run retail outlet provides quality control and security in checking the age of buyers.

However, incumbent Mayor John Becker, a lawyer, doesn’t want any such facility in the city, suggesting local residents can buy their weed across the border in Maple Ridge, which just passed its own bylaw for where such businesses can operate, in three commercial zones.

Becker wants to move slow on the issue of retail cannabis. He doesn’t want to see it in the city any more than he does a pawn shop or payday loan business, suggesting they are legal, too.

He is content to watch other communities “make all the mistakes” for the next 18 to 24 months, then reconsider retail sales.

For Dingwall, however, it’s important to take organized crime out of the picture.

The provincial and federal governments have already agreed to split marijuana tax revenues 75-25 per cent, respectively, while municipalities have not been cut in on the deal, yet, and fear increased enforcement costs with legalization.

The proposed bylaw in Pitt includes, for production of marijuana, requirements for criminal record checks, unscheduled inspections, odour control, and an annual business licence fee of $5,000.

It also includes regulations for cannabis production on farmland.

Becker worries that the Agricultural Land Commission has five enforcement officers for all of B.C., and has “zero faith in Health Canada to protect our community about the consequences of cannabis.”

The legalization of marijuana is a complex issue, one that goes beyond associated smells and a share of tax revenue.

But the federal government is ending the prohibition on marijuana.

The residents of Pitt Meadows, as in other Lower Mainland cities, are being asked to wait or go elsewhere.

Besides reducing consumer access, such bans do nothing to curb black market sales – a key component of legalization – and cities miss out on tax revenue.

To assume that cannabis consumers are going to purchase online over how they buy it now seems naive.

Opting out of cannabis retail is short-sighted and counterproductive if you care about community safety or economic prosperity.

Prohibition doesn’t work, so we are left to wonder what more is at play here, beyond a lost opportunity.

– Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News