By Lyonel Doherty
As cannabis legalization looms, the Town of Oliver doesn’t have much time to get its licensing ducks in order. But on Monday it decided to take more time to discuss the matter instead of supporting staff’s recommendation to restrict marijuana sales in all zones until bylaws are changed.
Council members also balked at hiring a consultant (for $15,000) to undertake a comprehensive public engagement process to determine what residents want. They feel the Town has the resources to do that on its own.
Corporate Officer Diane Vaykovich said Oliver has a short window of opportunity to address key areas around zoning, licensing and enforcement prior to legalization becoming law this summer.
She said the Town has to consider where cannabis sales and processing will be allowed. She added there may be a need for criminal record checks and greater inspections.
“Bylaw enforcement will be impacted by problems such as odour concerns,” she pointed out.
Vaykovich said there may be impacts related to social consumption and use in public places, not to mention impaired driving.
“The immediate challenge to Oliver is the lack of time to complete a comprehensive consultation program,” she said.
Vaykovich said people will be able to purchase non-medical cannabis through privately run retail stores or government-operated stores and online sales.
She noted the BC Liquor Distribution Branch will operate the public retail stores while the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch will license private stores.
Adults aged 19 and older will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of non-medical marijuana in a public place. But it will be banned from areas frequented by children, such as community beaches, parks and playgrounds.
Town staff in Oliver are currently developing a bylaw that will restrict all types of smoking in public spaces.
Vaykovich pointed out that local governments may regulate the location and number of retail stores or prohibit them altogether.
Vaykovich said Oliver can restrict cannabis sales in all zones and then update the zoning to reflect provincial requirements.
“Oliver council should consider restricting cannabis sales, and as controls are established, slowly open the door for business,” she said.
Vaykovich said local governments must shut down illegal operations before the new rules come into effect.
If left to operate, these businesses will likely be grandfathered as lawful, non-conforming, and thus exempted from the zoning restrictions, she stated.
Oliver RCMP Sgt. Blaine Gervais said he is not aware of any marijuana retail shops in Oliver right now.
Mayor Ron Hovanes said the Town doesn’t have to give out licences until its framework is in place.
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger said he is opposed to spending money on a consultant, saying the Town can engage the public via questions on its website. For example, how far away should cannabis retail shops be from schools?
He also noted that production facilities should be located in the industrial area, and that any retail products would be in commercial zones, just like alcohol and tobacco sales.
Councillor Petra Veintimilla opposed staff’s recommendation to restrict sales in all zones, saying this comes across as “a bit negative.” She said the tone should be more “positive.”
Veintimilla also said council should not be worrying about restricting the number of stores because Oliver can’t support very many anyway. She also stated the Town shouldn’t worry about odour either.
“Talking about odour perpetuates the stigma around marijuana.”
She said the cannabis products will be sealed and packaged, so there should be no odours.
But Hovanes expressed a concern about potentially poor business practices being grandfathered.
Councillor Maureen Doerr reminded council how strict the BC Liquor Control Board is on the sale of alcohol.
“I think they are very restrictive (with alcohol). I can’t see that changing with cannabis.”
Water councillor Rick Machial said the Town is better off waiting until it gets more information from the province.
Chief Administrative Officer Cathy Cowan tried to convince council that hiring a consultant would be ideal, citing the short time frame and current workload on Town staff.
“Our capacity at staff level right now is not there.”
But the mayor said staff could find the time to draft a public proposal to take to an open house. He noted a consultant’s report would be expensive and may end up sitting on a shelf.
Cowan referred to the original recommendation to restrict cannabis sales while the Town figures out what it wants to do.
But Machial said they don’t need any restrictions, adding that’s “putting the cart before the horse.”
Hovanes said council needed a longer committee of the whole meeting to discuss the matter further before moving forward.