According to the province’s latest cannabis retail laws, announced Monday in Victoria, city governments – such as Richmond – will be able to decide whether to allow pot shops.
In the lead up to the federal government’s July 1 marijuana legalization deadline, the province’s new guidelines lay out rules for who can sell recreational cannabis where and when.
At a Feb. 5 press conference, Minister of Public Safety, Mike Farnworth, said municipalities would have “the authority to make local decisions, based on the needs of their communities.”
“I know Richmond has said they don’t want any in their community,” he said, “and I don’t have a problem with that.”
Richmond has adamantly opposed pot shops. In February 2017, the city passed a zoning bylaw preventing marijuana dispensaries.
In October, all councillors voted in favour of asking the province to allow the city to continue to ban pot shops once the substance is legalized.
Under the new B.C. regulations, people will be able to buy recreational cannabis in government stores similar to government-run liquor stores, and in private retail stores with rules similar to those in place for privately-run liquor stores. But cities won’t be forced to grant pot shop licenses if they’re not into it.
Cannabis advocate and lawyer, Kirk Tousaw, says the province’s decision to let cities decide whether to allow pot shops is consistent with the local government act.
“You don’t see the province forcing municipalities to have any kinds of businesses,” he said. For example, he said, there are still some small towns in Canada that ban alchohol sales.
However, Tousaw doesn’t think it’s a wise decision for municipalities to ban pot shops.
Richmond is “a massive population centre with a lot of people who both want to buy cannabis in stores and engage in entrepreneurial small businesses by selling,” he said.
“I just think economically and socially it’s a huge mistake to ban these establishments,” he said. “It’s just going to force your residents to cross an imaginary boundary (and go to the city next door) to purchase their cannabis.”
Farnworth said that even if cities or regional districts ban pot shops, people won’t be prevented from accessing legal cannabis altogether. Instead, they’ll be able to purchase it from an online government store.
Malcolm Brodie, Richmond’s mayor, wasn’t available for an interview. But at a Richmond city council meeting last October, councillors expressed a variety of concerns over pot shops. Some said they were concerned about the long-term health affects of marijuana use, while others affirmed that Richmond is a conservative city focused on safety.
“This is a suburb,” said Councillor Carol Day, as reported in a CBC article. “We’re not the heavy duty nightlife of Downtown Vancouver and the action-packed thrill of adventure of Surrey. In Richmond, we tend to live a more conservative lifestyle,” she said.
Richmond staff also noted that pot-shop licensing and regulation would come with a cost to the city.
With municipal elections scheduled across the province in October 2018, Tousaw warns that this could be a huge local election issue.
“People underestimate consistently how popular cannabis and legalization of cannabis is. It’s probably one of the most popular topics in British Columbia politically,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s politically or economically wise to sort of have this dark ages ban on cannabis retailers.”
However, Tousaw said that outside of large cities, B.C. is “a fairly conservative province,” and predicts that many districts and cities will opt out of pot shops.
“There’s at least a possibility that there’ll be a lot of municipalities that disallow cannabis retailers and that’s going to be problematic for people wanting access at a local level,” he said.
Originally posted in Metro News