Saanich staff has recommended council approve a “full prohibition” on the sale, production and distribution of recreational cannabis until staff have had time to fully review federal and provincial legislation.

Update: Saanich puts lid on future pot sales for now

Saanich is moving ahead with plans for a “full” prohibition of the sale, production and distribution of recreational cannabis until staff have had an opportunity to review federal and provincial legislation.

Council Monday voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing into zoning changes designed to prohibit the sale and production of recreational cannabis except on lands within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and individual dwellings units where individuals can grow up to a maximum of four Cannabis plants, the maximum allowed number under pending changes to federal legislation.

Council’s vote (which did not include any debate among councillors) came after receiving a report recommending “full” prohibition.

“At this time, staff recommend the prohibition of sale, production [and] distribution of recreational cannabis,” said Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning in the report.

Cited reasons include what Hvozdanski called a “[lack] of detailed information” from federal and provincial officials. “This is a fast-moving and evolving issue and information continues to be released,” she said.

Staff have also lacked “sufficient time” to “adequately study all of the impacts that Saanich should be considering in order to draft regulations as information continues to be released.”

While Ottawa plans to legalize marijuana in the summer of 2018, Saanich currently lacks provision for the legal sale, production, or distribution of recreational cannabis because it remains an illegal substance under the Criminal Code of Canada.

“The prudent thing to do is to be ready for the moment the federal legislation is passed and have prohibitions in place now that can be scaled back later,” she said. “As a placeholder, staff propose that Saanich restrict cannabis sales, production and distribution … as a temporary measure and then update the zoning to reflect and complement the provincial and federal requirements once they have been finalized, should [council] wish to do so at that time.”

Residents who want to sell recreational cannabis on an interim basis could either apply for temporary use permit or a rezoning, she said.

The report helps to clarify a question that has been looming for some time: would Saanich permit the sale of recreational marijuana? For now, it points towards a negative answer, but leaves room for alternative outcomes, as Hvozdanski recommends council ask staff to “prepare a report examining options for the regulation of recreational cannabis.”

Saanich, in other words, could yet develop a regulatory regime, and council Monday asked staff to bring forward such a report in the future.

Hvozdanski said staff finalized the report dated May 15 with its recommendation just before the provincial government had released information about new legislation, specifically the Canabis Distribution Act (CDA), the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act (CCLA), and changes to the Motor Vehicle Act.

“As such, staff are continuing to review all of the information and proposed legislative amendments,” she said.

Hvozdanski’s report acknowledges that local governments will be able to regulate various aspects of retail, such as business licensing, hours of operations and health and safety.

“These items would be considered in a subsequent report to [council] as outlined in the recommendation section of this report,” she said.

The report acknowledges Saanich continues to search for guidance, as do many other communities.

The report notes that the medical cannabis system will continue to exist in its current form after the legalization of recreational cannabis.

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