People looking to open up a retail business selling cannabis will find the doors are closed in Hope, for the time being.
After a spirited public hearing July 4 with 40 people in attendance, council voted Monday to add an amendment to a zoning bylaw which will prohibit retail sales of cannabis, with one councillor, Heather Stewin, opposed. Another motion, introduced by Coun. Scott Medlock, will start a process to gather views from the public to inform municipal work once provincial regulations on cannabis roll out in October.
The change to bylaw 1428 will include, under uses prohibited in all land, buildings and structures in all zones “the use or approval of any planning or business related retail sale or dispensing of cannabis, as well as the sale of cannabis-linked paraphernalia or by-products (e.g. edibles or infused liquids, etc.).”
Chief administrative officer at the district John Fortoloczky explained the bylaw change was the ‘best safeguard’ to the district.
“Municipalities are facing pressures by groups and individuals to get on board by providing areas or zones to provide that recreational marijuana,” he said.
“This gives the district the best tools to deal with illegal start-ups, ideally give you the buffer and the time, and the public the transparent knowledge that there’s a pause. You as a district have to tackle the big decision as to a) does the community want to have recreational marijuana dispensed or sold and then b) how do we go forward to allow for, in the zoning and bylaws to have to change to dovetail with this.”
Mayor Wilfried Vicktor said investigating how to implement legalization on a local level before provincial rules come out was ‘putting the cart before the horse’ and wasting staff resources. Vicktor said he has been approached by some ‘off colour element’ wanting to open a cannabis business.
“It’s fair to say that these are the people that if you get into a little tiff with them, you might not make the next council meeting,” he said, alluding to criminals who want to be involved in the sale of cannabis.
At the public hearing July 4, which Vicktor said was a ‘comparatively small turnout’, he said he had been approached by a few dozen people in favour of the bylaw change. In his view, the ‘majority of the public are happy with a temporary prohibition on this, because they want us to proceed appropriately.’
All those who spoke at the public hearing, except for one speaker opposed to his tax dollars going to regulating cannabis, spoke in favour of retail sales of cannabis in Hope. The support was for a variety of reasons including taking the cannabis out of the realm of organized crime, allowing medical marijuana to be more readily available for those suffering from pain and illness, and retail cannabis as a business opportunity for the town.
At the public hearing, several community members objected to the wording of the bylaw, especially the word ‘prohibit’. Some objected to implementing the bylaw as it created a repeal process, essentially the same process as this bylaw change involving two readings by council, a public hearing, a third reading and adoption.
Also not happy with the wording of the bylaw, Coun. Medlock said Monday he would support it if council could also begin the work to find out whether people in Hope want retail sales once legalization happens. He introduced a motion to discuss this first at a committee of the whole meeting, then at a public hearing in the fall.
Realistically, Medlock said, nothing would be in place for retail sales by the end of the year. A local election in October complicates the timeline as well.
Mayor Wilfried Vicktor said he had heard of a questionnaire circulated in Abbotsford, which could be a tool used to gauge the mood in Hope. He asked staffers to look into this.
As several councillors made clear during Monday’s meeting, they don’t want to miss the boat on any economic opportunities retail sales will bring. Coun. Donna Kropp said she didn’t want to dissuade or penalize people who want to open a business and want to do it right.
The change to bylaw 1428 will move forward to adoption at a future council meeting.
Is there more to this story?