Province releases policy guidelines for cannabis retail outlets

The city will likely go through a public consultation process before council deliberates on zoning, business licenses and bylaws

Provincial and municipal Canadian governments are taking steps to prepare for the impending legalization of cannabis this summer. On Feb. 5, it was the B.C. provincial government’s turn, as it released the policy guidelines for the distribution and sale of cannabis.

Solicitor general Mike Farnworth said the first standalone B.C. cannabis retail outlet won’t be selling marijuana over the shelf until the “late summer.”

During the press conference Farnworth specified that they will launch an early registration process in the spring that will allow private businesses to seek a business license to compete with public cannabis retail outlets to be managed by the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.

According the province’s press release, those licenses won’t be granted without the “support of local governments, which will have the authority to make local decisions.”

Nigel Whitehead, director of development services at the City of Revelstoke, said that city staff are currently working on interim bylaw amendments that will “more clearly articulate the current prohibition of retail sales, which will remain in place until more information is received from the province.”

He also said that any regulatory framework for looking at where cannabis retail outlets will be allowed to set up shop in Revelstoke will have to go through a public consultation process before council deliberates on the subject, and that the timeline for the completion of that municipal process is unclear.

“It may or may not be completed prior to federal legalization,” said Whitehead in an emailed statement to the Review on Feb. 7.

On Feb. 6. Mayor Mark McKee said he thinks it is likely there will be restrictions placed on how many cannabis retail outlets will be allowed to set up shop in town.

“We don’t want these on every street,” said McKee. “My concern would be: how close is it to a school, how close is it to a bar, etc. This has to be something that we do right, and is accepted by the community. The question that council is going to have to ask itself is: how many of these things do we want and need?”

A number of local residents have expressed interest in opening a cannabis retail outlet in the past, but as cannabis has yet to be legalized, McKee and Whitehead said the city will not be accepting applications for business licenses.

“Retail storefront sales of cannabis —both recreational and medicinal —remain illegal under federal law and business licenses applications for such uses are not accepted,” said Whitehead.

The province’s announcement to provide a public and private distribution model comes following Bill C-45 having been passed by the federal government in Nov. 2017.

C-45 gave provinces the power to determine the method of distribution and sale, and specified that legal sales will not begin until at least July of this year.

If the bill is passed by the Senate — which had the federal ministers of health, justice and public safety appear before a special committee to discuss it last Tuesday — then Canada will become just the second country in the world to federally legalize recreational marijuana for sale and distribution (after Uruguay), and the only one of the G-20.

The last time the Senate deliberated on the subject before Jan. 30 was just after it was passed by the House of Commons on Nov. 27.

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Three weeks prior to bill C-45 being passed by the House of Commons in November, the Canadian Federation of Municipalities released its Cannabis Legalization Primer to prepare smaller municipalities for the legal transition.

The document outlines the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of jurisdiction, with reference to cannabis consumption, sale and distribution.

It specifies that the key areas of municipal jurisdiction will be land use, planning, zoning and business licensing.

The city will be hosting a municipal convention towards the end of April and one of the breakout sessions will be on marijuana regulation.

“I think that it’s on the radar screen. Legalization looks like it will be a reality,” said McKee. “If it is a legal business and follows all the criteria that this and other governments have set, then we will be happy to accept it into the community.”