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City plans to temporarily ban marijuana businesses

The City of Prince Rupert plans to ban cannabis shops until 2018. - Contributed: Flickr/DankDepot
The City of Prince Rupert plans to ban cannabis shops until 2018.
— image credit: Contributed: Flickr/DankDepot

The City of Prince Rupert stepped into hazy territory Monday night when councillors discussed how to navigate the potential legalization of marijuana.

Currently, if the federal government legalized cannabis this year, as it has stated, the absence of zoning or business licensing bylaws in the city may lead to the Wild West.

“At this time as well, it's not possible for the city to develop effective and also fair regulations governing commercial marijuana operations in the city without first knowing the federal and provincial frameworks,” said Hans Seidemann, the manager of community development for the city, who presented the report to council Jan. 9.

“We run the risk of developing conflicting regulations resulting in a de facto prohibition across the city or by developing toothless regulations that don't have any effect.”

Seidemann recommended that council introduce a temporary zoning bylaw to buy some time and figure out how pot shops will be allowed to operate in the city. In the next few months, when the federal government plans to introduce legislation to regulate the production and sale of marijuana, Prince Rupert can play catch up to how those regulations may play out on the North Coast.

Mayor Lee Brain agreed with the temporary bylaw, and in the meantime he said it would give them time to examine regulation options and research what other municipalities have done.

“When Colorado legalized marijuana, one of the things they didn't realize was that there was this whole new industry emerging of edibles of people actually baking and cooking with marijuana and they hadn't anticipated that would be part of the [industry]. All of a sudden they had to backtrack and try to figure out how they were going to regulate all of that,” Brain said to council.

Medical marijuana is legal in Canada for patients with the proper documentation provided by a health practitioner. However, recreational marijuana is still illegal — for now. This hasn't stopped the dozens of dispensaries in Vancouver from operating.

As a result, the City of Vancouver introduced bylaws in 2015 when there were more than 100 businesses selling marijuana without any regulations. To stem the growth of the illicit businesses the municipality set its own framework for public safety.

Dispensaries in Vancouver must pay $30,000 a year for a business licence, while the not-for-profit compassion clubs pay $1,000. The bylaw also bans the marijuana businesses from operating within 300 metres of community centres, school and other marijuana shops.

“I feel like in Vancouver, they let everybody barge in and do what they wanted to do and they scurried fast to try and charge people $30,000 to get into business. How can you make rules on something that's illegal?” Councillor Wade Niesh said, adding that he agrees this is a good first step to preventing Prince Rupert from mirroring what has happened in the Lower Mainland.

Councillor Blair Mirau pointed out in the discussion that the city is not currently dealing with any illicit cannabis operations and questioned the urgency in adopting an interim plan before the government provides a concrete timeline.

“The reason for doing this now is to establish, from a municipal perspective, that this is temporarily prohibited and that way we don't run into the risk of illegal operations becoming legal and then losing our ability to control the development of the industry in the municipality,” Seidmann said in response.

Council voted in favour of holding a public hearing at the next council meeting on Jan. 23.

- With files from Kevin Campbell

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