No pot shops for Duncan: city prohibits dispensaries, for now

The City of Duncan is firming up its policy on marijuana dispensaries until such time as federal law becomes clear.

Coun. Tom Duncan

Coun. Tom Duncan

The City of Duncan is firming up its policy on marijuana dispensaries until such time as federal law becomes clear.

Karen Robertson, corporate services director told Duncan council at a special meeting on last week that its business bylaw requires non-profit societies and businesses to have a valid licence and storefront marijuana dispensary business applications are being denied by the city currently because of the illegal use federal law.

But it’s a tricky situation and council is hoping to clear it up.

“What’s been confusing to some residents is the differences between the actual local, provincial and federal laws related to the storefront and that’s why they’ve been sort of popping up, if you will, in other jurisdictions,” Robertson told council. “It is difficult, though, to explain that to folks who have other dispensaries in other jurisdictions.”

In places like Nanaimo, she said, there are no requirements in their business licence bylaws for non-profits to obtain licences so that leaves them free to open up storefronts.

“And then what happens is the enforcement of that defaults to the RCMP and they are just overwhelmed right now with other issues and so the RCMP have actually approached local governments to say ‘it would be helpful for us if we had zoning bylaws locally and business licence bylaws that would support the efforts until such time as the laws get changed’,” Robertson explained. “If we had on our applications that you are in fact required to meet local, provincial and federal legislation I think it would alleviate some of that confusion because the federal oversees the use, the provincial oversees the giving of a non-profit status and then of course there’s your local bylaws with the land use of that product.”

Councillor Sharon Jackson noted the amendments to Duncan’s bylaws would only last as long as the federal government makes up its mind about what the regulations are going to be.

“At that point we will likely be looking at this again,” Jackson said.

True, Robertson noted, adding council ultimately would decide whether they would prefer to continue with a prohibition within city boundaries in the future.

That’s an option for council no matter what the feds approve.

“Staff are doing a full zoning bylaw review and different options will be presented back to council as to what course of action you want to go forward with,” Robertson told council. “This is at least a temporary solution so that council is not in a reactionary mode and can give a more thoughtful approach about how it wants to proceed.”

Councillor Tom Duncan said amending the bylaws to prohibit marijuana related uses is a complete waste of time.

“We’re putting the horse behind the cart and I think at this stage, I don’t see every municipality in British Columbia running out and changing their bylaws to prohibit this use,” he said. “I think that we’re jumping the gun, we’re spending a bunch of money on changes we’re going to have to look at again as soon as the federal government changes the rules that are in place. We could be in this position three weeks from now reviewing these same bylaws.”

Coun. Michelle Staples agreed council is in a bit of a strange position but she feels it’s important to make the changes.

“I feel more comfortable if we were to put ourselves in the position where…we weren’t waiting for the government, not that I don’t think the government won’t do it, I think that they will, I feel like I know that they will, but I don’t know how long that will take,” she said.

Staples added she felt similar to Coun. Duncan in that it feels a bit like jumping the gun, however.

“We know this is going to change, and we need to be discussing how we’re going to deal with that change.”

It is indeed an unusual position, Coun. Michelle Bell said, but one that needs a lot of work and a lot of community input moving forward.

She sees the amendments as a stop-gap until those talks can be had.

“I really think the reason for this and this is the reason I’ve agreed with it, is because we’re saying ‘let’s just pause so that they don’t just pop up all over the place…and let’s just ask the community what they want.’”

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said staff has put strong thought into the changes and it’s widely recognized they’re in a tough spot.

“We are at this time reacting to applications for business licensees for applications and it’s a challenging spot to be in,” he said. “This provides the pause and for us to thoughtfully look at our zoning bylaws, which we are doing right now. I think it gives everybody an opportunity to have a reasonable deliberation and discussion about it.”

Cowichan Valley Citizen