This week we had two (2!) evening Council meetings. It is a little unusual, but have a lot to get done before the summer break, and some of it requires Public Hearings. As we rarely know ahead of time which Public Hearings will strike a chord in the community and result in hours of delegations, Staff have tried to pace things out to assure we don’t run into scheduling delays or situations where important issues that need a fulsome community conversation are overwhelmed by one another. So two meetings it was. I’ll write a second post about the second meeting, but first, a Monday Council Workshop on a single topic:
Cannabis Workshop: Implementation of Cannabis Legislation
This is a follow-up to a workshop Council held on January 29, and you might want to go back to this report to get caught up on where we are and where we are going here. It really explains the areas that the City needs to deal with – that is issues that are not already regulated by the Feds or the Province, and those where we are able to augment senior government rules because of our land use and business license regulatory powers.
After that January meeting, our staff did some work and some public consultation to develop a set of guidelines that they will draft into Bylaws. This workshop was meant to be a check-in with Council, and a conversation with the public, around that framework.
This is an evolving file, and Bylaws are yet to be drawn (this was even discussed before yesterday’s Royal Assent of the Federal Cannabis Act, demonstrating how quickly things are changing), and some may require Public Hearings. Therefore, I am going to speak in generalities about what the major areas of municipal legislation are, what the proposed direction from staff is, and what my initial opinions are (recognizing any and all three of these could change before the October 17th date the Federal Law is meant to be enacted).
Land Use for Cannabis Retail
As a City, we can regulate this, all the way from not allowing any retailing of cannabis in the City to having a complete free-for-all. The general direction would be to mimic how we deal with liquor retail: require a site-specific zoning. This gives Council a lot of discretion, in that the zoning would be based on a set of Guidelines, but Council could always be asked by a proponent to vary from those guidelines. At this point, staff have suggested limiting retial to commercially zoned areas (naturally), and to create limits on how close a store can be to a school or (potentially) to other areas like Parks and Daycares (100m). They also recommend having a prescribed distance between cannabis retailers (300m).
I suspect the first provision is a bit of a holdover from prohibition, both in how we apply it to liquor outlets and to cannabis: I don’t think it is based on risk mitigation or actual danger to children, but to a somewhat puritan “keep the sin away from innocent eyes” holdover from the temperance movement. I recognize that a community concern exists, however, and don’t think a 100m buffer to schools will be onerous for the businesses. I’m not sure I can say the same about Parks, because 100m from Pier Park and Sapperton Park (for example) does impact commercial areas.
I also have a concern that daycares are already scarce in our City, and are almost all in commercial areas, and as much as I don’t want their existence to unduly limit other retail business, I don’t want a new cannabis store to suddenly preclude the existence of new daycare centres if operators want to open them. I guess I don’t understand the risk we are hoping to avoid.
As for the 300m proximity buffer between retailers, I also think that may be too large. I used the example of the Starbucks on Sixth Street and Columbia: if it decided to shift to a cannabis outlet, it’s 300m buffer would encompass about 90% of the downtown commercial property. Similarly for Uptown if an outlet was built at Sixth & 6th. I suspect we are trying to avoid creating a “Cannabis district” where every second store is a cannabis outlet, just as a basic land use principle, but there needs to be a bit of work here to make sure we are not being too limiting for new businesses that want to open up.
Business License Regulations
The City can regulate things like operating hours, sign bylaws, and other details of how a retail business can operate in our community. The City is considering creating similar regulations (again) to liquor retail, but still have some work to do on signage and aesthetics. We don’t want businesses with blacked-out windows or bars in the windows, as that creates an uninviting street presence, but we want businesses to be secure. So there is some more work to do where, especially in consultation with potential operators.
Processing and Warehousing
Similar to retail, the City can regulate the type of industrial business that operates in the City. The City is proposing that cannabis processing and packaging be limited to the M1 zone, which is the heavier industrial zone. This is mostly related to the increased anticipated security these facilities will require under federal law, and that level of security not being appropriate for our M2 zones (which are commonly more light industrial-with-a-store-front). There will also be strict waste management and air quality protection measures required by senior government regulation, which makes M1 work better.
This is where I suspect the most public concern with legalization of cannabis is going to appear: the simple nuisance of second-hand smoke. Public attitudes about public smoking have shifted significantly in the last decade, and the simple approach offered by the province (public use is legal wherever smoking is legal) may prove challenging. Although I suspect the actual use of cannabis will not increase significantly after October 17, the public exposure to its use (along with confirmation bias by its opponents) will lead to a lot of complaints.
The city will be updating our smoking bylaws to include vapor and cannabis smoke, and will continue to limit smoking with 7.5m of a doorway and in Parks. However, banning use in the way we do alcohol (i.e. no public spaces) is challenging, as we will not have “pubs” where people can go, and landlords and strata councils will have the legal authority to prohibit smoking in people’s homes, making it very difficult for some people to find a place to use what is a legal product. One of the delegates at our meeting pointed out the structural unfairness of limiting public consumption for those who may not be able to smoke at home.
Of all the regulations, this is the one that is going to be hardest to make people happy, because it runs up against a conflict between people’s individual rights. With the federal government specifically *not* legalizing edibles and tinctures at this time, smoking and vaping will be the primary delivery method. So we are going to have some learning to do as a society.
The Federal regulations say you can grow a limited number of plants at home for personal use, and the province further restricts that the plants can’t be “visible” from public spaces, and that landlords and stratas are legally able to restrict growing of cannabis in multi-family units. As a City, we are not contemplating adding to these restrictions.
You have until June 24 to take part in the City’s on-line survey about these regulations if you have strong feelings. Otherwise, we will see some draft Bylaws at the end of the summer, and expect that we will be able to make them into law here in New West ahead of the October 17 federal legalization, and before the October 20, 2017 Municipal election!