Lake Cowichan town council tells crowd why it’s necessary to control location of any pot shops in town. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Lake Cowichan town council tells crowd why it’s necessary to control location of any pot shops in town. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

VIDEO: ‘The last thing we want is a free-for-all’: Lake Cowichan council tells crowd

Zoning changes are needed if the town is to have any control over pot shop locations and more

“I don’t think anybody in this room wants to see a free-for-all where just anybody in any building can open up a marijuana retail sales store,” Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest told a full house at Lake Cowichan council chambers on May 8.

The special meeting gave Lake Cowichan town councillors the chance to publicly state their reasons for wanting to prohibit pot shops in town after cannabis is legalized in Canada. At least, prohibit them until they’ve brought their business proposal to the council table, that is.

Mayor Ross Forrest opened the council meeting by saying that “council appreciates the use of this forum for conversation rather than social media. It’s much nicer to have everybody here in person to hear their comments, and listen to factual information, without name calling. Whether you’re for or against, it doesn’t matter. That’s not what we’re here to decide tonight.”

He said the idea behind council changing the zoning bylaw was to allow the Town of Lake Cowichan some control over if, and where, such shops open in Lake Cowichan.

There had been a lot of talk on Facebook that day about the zoning bylaw, with comments wandering all over the place. That led to a good-sized crowd turning out to the session.

Coun. Tim McGonigle began the discussion of the changes to the bylaw, which only received first and second reading before it goes to public hearing.

“Marijuana will be legalized in Canada sometime in 2018,” he said, “and…the onus is on municipalities to be ready. So, by disallowing retail cannabis, we have the option of applications coming forward for discussion. This does not prohibit cannabis retail at all, whether you’re for or against.

“All it does is give a public process for that entity to become a reality in the Town of Lake Cowichan. We’ve heard from the federal and provincial governments that this legislation is to protect young people. In our current commercial zoning, right now, retail could open next to a licensed daycare and I don’t think any of us want that.

“So, don’t take this that we are shutting the door at Highway 18 for retail cannabis. We just want to do it right,” he said.

Coun. Bob Day, said, “Other municipalities…have determined that this is a good jumping off point. None of us know where this is going to go, so it’s better that we start this way,” he said, encouraging the public to come out to the public hearing that is on the way.

Coun. Lorna Vomacka told the crowd about a town hall meeting on Monday, May 28 at Centennial Hall, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Mayor Ross Forrest then said, “To clarify, that meeting on May 28 is not a public hearing on cannabis. It’s a public meeting on the many topics the public wants to bring to council. The public hearing has to be advertised and it will be a special meeting strictly dealing with the public hearing on cannabis retail.”

Vomacka asked if the public could speak at the public town meeting about pot if they wanted to.

“Absolutely,” replied Forrest. “There will be talk about cannabis.”

The second half of the May 28 meeting will be run by a facilitator, giving councillors the chance to sit back and listen to the community, Forrest said.

“This isn’t five of us sitting at a table saying: ‘No. We’re shutting off retail sales of cannabis.’ Then, at the public hearing, we will take any additional information, which will be restricted to people who live in Lake Cowichan,” he said.

Coun. Carolyne Austin said, “I’m agreeing with what Coun. McGonigle said. And, I think it’s really important that the public does speak up. We want to hear what everybody wants, and do the best for the majority.”

Forrest said councillors had been at various information sessions dealing with cannabis legalization.

“We’ve listened to the legal experts on this. We’re following other communities. Tofino did it months ago — and I don’t think anybody in this room wants to see a free-for-all where just anybody in any building can open up a marijuana retail sales store. If we don’t protect ourselves with prohibitive language, it will be a free-for-all and we will have no way to stop them once that happens. We’ve been told to make sure we get this in place prior to the legalization.”

Forrest also drew attention to some misinformation that had emerged in comments on Facebook “about kennels, and pawnshops, about how we’re anti-business. Kennels have been in our bylaw since 1987. It means the keeping of three or more dogs…Since 1987, our bylaws don’t allow people to have three or more dogs. It’s not that at tonight’s meeting we’re changing that bylaw to not allow a kennel. This has been in place for 30 years.

“The other one [covers] pawnshops, and that has been in place since 2003 before any of us were at this table. My understanding is that the RCMP were the ones who were pushing for that change in our bylaw, to not allow pawnshops, because of the additional workload for them. Because everything that is bought or sold at a pawnshop has to be recorded, in case it’s stolen items, or whatever. This is just to try and put a little stop to some of the gossip that’s going on. Thank you very much for listening to that,” he told the crowd.

Council gave first and second reading to an amendment to the zoning bylaw to prohibit retail cannabis locations. They also voted “to investigate other available options through public meetings or hearings before consideration is given to permitting the location of cannabis retail stores in any zone or on any parcel.”

Lake Cowichan Gazette