Locals will soon get their say on how they want their community to deal with the impending legalization of recreational marijuana, as the District of Hope prepares to mail out a survey to Hope residents.
The District of Hope prohibited retail sales of marijuana in July ahead of an Oct. 17 Canada-wide legalization of the substance. District staff stressed this was a temporary measure at the time and are now looking to gauge public opinion on how residents want to see recreational marijuana sold and regulated through a survey.
The mail-out will include the same questions as a survey sent to Abbotsford residents, with an added question on whether residents support an increase in bylaw costs related to recreational marijuana. Residents will be asked their views on the sale, consumption and home growing of recreational marijuana, referred to as non-medicinal cannabis in the Abbotsford survey.
Mayor and council will then take these answers and fashion bylaws. While the District of Hope is limited in how it can regulate a soon-to-be legal substance, it can decide on retail locations and rules, public consumption and how land is used related to cannabis sales.
“It could involve bylaw, business licensing, zoning, there could even be building code changes as a result. And simple questions, that seem simple but the answers aren’t. How many retailers do you want in a district? How close should they be? Where should they be? These are all important questions that council will have to tackle” said Hope’s chief administrative officer John Fortoloczky, at an Aug. 27 meeting.
Councillors Scott Medlock, Donna Kropp and Gerry Dyble all expressed the need for the survey process to proceed quickly. Coun. Heather Stewin, meanwhile, criticized the lack of action so far and said the district can refer to guides and draft bylaws put out by the province and the Union of BC Municipalities.
“As long as I’ve lived in Hope, there have been retail sales of cannabis, they just haven’t been advertised or marketed. So it’s here and I think that we need to get our heads above water and realize that stalling, surveys, whatever, is not going to stop people from smoking pot. It’s going to happen,” she said.
“Ever since the federal government announced they were going to legalize cannabis, there have been seminars after seminars after seminars about it, and we’ve done nothing. And now we sit here today, what, a month and a half away from legalization looking at a survey.”
In response to a question from The Hope Standard on whether Mayor and council should have started work sooner, Mayor Wilfried Vicktor said there is still plenty of time to engage the public.
“We can’t do anything final until Oct. 17 anyways, so there’s no impending doom here. Like Abbotsford’s outright said they’re going to wait it out, wait and see what other communities do,” he said.
“My personal opinion has always been, until we know exactly what the province wants to do, it’s hard to put regulations in place based on a playing field that’s always changing.”
Stewin was the only vote opposed to a July bylaw change prohibiting the retail sales of cannabis in Hope. After a local election Oct. 20, the new Mayor and council will have to decide whether to remove this prohibition.
The survey, one copy of which will be mailed out to each household by Sept. 10 to 12, will give council information about what the majority of Hope residents think. District staff estimate the process should cost under $1,000.
A July 4 public hearing with 40 attendees, while ‘articulate and vocal’, is a minority of voices and not enough to base policy on the Mayor stressed.
“There was less than one per cent of the population there, so it would be in poor taste to make large decisions without consulting the rest of the community,” he said.
Some councillors made clear their views on the substance during the Aug. 27 meeting, with Coun. Bob Erickson repeating his view that marijuana can be legalized but cannot be made healthy.
“I’ll never use it. I can’t see it ever being healthy and I look back at the history of smoking. Smoking used to be used as a medical device to cure a lot of lung problems,” he said.
“Sure some of the oils might be good and people say they are, but as far as the smoking part of it we’ll really see some problems down the road as far as medical problems, people’s ability to think clearly and use their reasoning power.”
Despite personal preferences, councillors agreed the work needed to proceed to regulate the soon-legal substance.
“I’m not a pot smoker myself, nor do I intend to be one, but I do believe that the retail sector will be providing that option for people in the very near future,” Kropp said.
“We may or may not decide to have retail outlets in our community, depending on what bylaws we create for that. But the thing about it is, it’s going to come. I like to be prepared for things that are coming.”
If residents have questions about the survey, they can contact District Hall at 604-869-5671 or visit 325 Wallace St.
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