Cannabis dispensaries in Victoria have been subject to a separate city bylaw since September 2016. Retail sales of recreational pot are being met in different ways and at different stages in municipalitis like Sidney. (Don Descoteau/Victoria News/File)

Sidney bans retail recreational cannabis – temporarily

Town wants to get regulations in place before expected legalization

Steve Price says Sidney wants to control where recreational cannabis products are sold — and who is selling it — so the Town is prohibiting it, for now.

Mayor Price and the municipal council voted this week to enact what they term a temporary prohibition on the retail sale, production and distribution of recreational cannabis. Councillors made it clear they were doing so, in order to get out in front of the expected legalization of recreational cannabis some time this summer.

“There will be a provincial store in Sidney at some point, maybe some private ones,” Price said. “But they’ll all have to be (approved) by council.”

As part of their vote on May 14, council also ordered municipal staff to prepare amendments to local zoning bylaws. This was the first option suggested by staff. Option two would have seen staff prepare the same regulatory amendments to prepare for legal pot — but without the prohibition. A third ootion was to do nothing.

Councillor Erin Bremner-Mitchell said she supports the prohibition, noting that doing nothing could see existing local retailers start to offer cannabis products for sale before the Town has any rules in place. Those situations, she said, would be deemed “legal, non-conforming” and the Town would not be able to stop them from continuing to do so — or regulate them under any new rules after the fact. By dealing with this now, she said, it also gives the municipality time to consult with the community.

“The legislation is going to happen,” added Coun. Peter Wainwright on the federal government’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis. “We need to have an orderly transition.”

Wainwright called Council’s move a “freeze” and that they aren’t intending it to be a long-term prohibition.

Coun. Mervyn Lougher-Goodey said he thinks that the federal government’s proposed allowance of up to four personal pot plants in homes is “terrifying”.

“It’s not just that there’s people using it, but there are problems with it being grown in people’s houses,” he said.

He said, however, that the change is coming and Sidney has to prepare.

“It’s supposed to happen July 1, but don’t hold your breath.”

In the staff report on the matter, this approach “will give the Town more time to consider … the regulation of recreational cannabis in a comprehensive an unhurried manner, including a public consultation component.”

Sidney has seen this coming in other forms. In April 2016, Sidney North Saanich RCMP raided the Dispensary by the Sea, which had been selling medicinal marijuana. It was then and is still now, illegal for anyone to operate storefront pot shops. Its owners had applied to the Town for a business license, which was refused. At the time, the Town said it would be investigating what other municipalities are doing about the proliferation of medical marijuana storefronts. As a result, Sidney currently restricts medicinal marijuana production to industrial properties — although there are no such facilities in the municipality.

On recreational cannabis sales, Sidney council passed in Oct., 2017 a resolution that staff review and amend Town regulations and policies on legalization.

According to Town staff, it’s a mixed bag of rules and processes in the region.

Central Saanich is considering permitting cannabis retail, regulated through the use of three-year-term temporary use permits.

Colwood – prohibit in anywhere other than a licensed pharmacy or premises licensed under the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.

Langford – prohibit sales and investigate options like regulations and pilot programs.

North Saanich – (under consideration) continued regulation of all cannabis on ALR land and fees charged for any business license associated with retail sales. Recreational cannabis cultivation, production and retail sale son non-ALR land to be prohibited.

Nanaimo – Planning for marijuana legalization through its Cannabis Task Force.

Other places are in various stages of bylaw changes with prohibitions to give them breathing space.

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