Neither Tofino nor Ucluelet is entirely sure how to handle the federal government’s legalization of marijuana this summer.
Tofino’s municipal council is considering a restriction on the retail sale of marijuana and will host a public hearing on Feb. 13 to discuss it with the community.
“It’s not that we’re not in support of this and don’t understand that it will be a right of Canadians, but we’re a small municipality and don’t have a lot of resources to manage this type of change to our laws,” the district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers told the Westerly News.
“We don’t have the resources to be able to manage it if it was open season and we started getting complaints about dispensaries opening up right next to schools and other places.”
Rodgers said the proposed restriction would only apply to the retail sale of marijuana, not its use.
“The intent behind it is to give us some time, as a community, to sort out what this means for us,” he said. “One way to look at it is that it’s a substance not unlike liquor. They are different, but they are restricted to certain people being able to purchase them by age. You have to be 19 years old. In our zoning, we only allow beer and wine stores in certain zones and it would be the same for retail of marijuana…We just want to make sure that we’re ready to understand it and ready to be able to accept it into the community.”
He added Tofino has not received any applications for a marijuana retailer yet and that locals would likely be able to buy marijuana in neighbouring communities.
“We are a small town. How many marijuana stores are you going to want to allow and how many will be successful? This kind of sale may be restricted in Tofino, but it’s not necessarily restricted in Port Alberni or Ucluelet or Nanaimo,” he said.
“People will buy marijuana pretty much anywhere they want after this, so I don’t know if it’ll end up being that big of a deal for us.”
On the other side of the peninsula, Ucluelet’s municipal council reviewed a letter during their Jan. 23 regular meeting from local liquor store owner Andrew Hanson who outlined his plans to submit an application to the district to sell marijuana.
“I would like to be a part of it and help to take cannabis from the parking lots and alleys to a respected retail profession,” he wrote. “I have the ability, the expertise and the available location for a cannabis retail operation.”
He added that, if he does become a cannabis retailer, he would either renovate his current liquor store at 1786 Peninsula Road to create a separate entrance and area for cannabis sales, or use a spot within his Ucluelet Lodge building at 250 Main Street.
“Both options would provide a professional and safe place for people to shop,” he wrote. “I take the safety of my staff, customers and community very seriously and I hope to help Ucluelet be ready for this new industry.”
Council expressed appreciation for Hanson making his intent known, though both Coun. Mayco Noel and Coun. Sally Mole suggested the letter was a reminder that Ucluelet is not ready to tackle such applications.
“It does bring up a discussion we had, probably a year or so ago, about this coming down the wire and hoping that we’re ready; and, we’re not ready,” Mole said.
Earlier in the meeting, Ucluelet had reviewed a letter from the City of West Kelowna’s council requesting help in lobbying the provincial government to allocate 50 per cent of B.C.’s share of the cannabis tax to local governments.
“This is an adequate and equitable share to help support costs and services incurred by local governments,” the letter read adding legalization could increase local government costs around planning, licensing, public health, social services and communications.
“Current discussions regarding revenue sharing involve the Federal and Provincial governments with no inclusion of local governments,” the letter states.
Ucluelet agreed to support West Kelowna’s efforts, but hesitated over the 50 per cent figure.
“I think there should be some sort of kick back to local government, because there will be increased costs for us,” Mole said. “What that figure is I don’t know, because there is so many unknowns out there.”
She suggested Ucluelet lobby for a “significant” portion of the taxes, rather than specifically 50 per cent, and council agreed.