Update: Councillor Sauvé has provided his perspective on the issue.
It is always a good sign when the public has filled the Council Chambers at City Hall 5 minutes before the regular council meeting starts.
The big topic of interest on the Nov 9 Agenda was Marijuana Dispensaries and what to do with the dispensary known as “WeeMedical“. A picture of its store front is beside. Below this post I’ve attached the report from The Peak this morning. Here is the AVNews Article as of Nov 12.
There had been a ton of talk and concern about the dispensary since it opened a couple weeks ago. In response to the interest, I conducted an informal and unscientific Facebook poll through my Facebook Page on Oct 26 that asked: “On Marijuana Dispensaries should Port Alberni: A) Discourage/Close as per Federal Criminal Code or B) Regulate, License. As Vancouver has done.” I got an unexpectedly large response. The results of the poll were A: 20 and B: 212. (more responses came after with generally the same ratio).
Getting back to the meeting, after 5 people (Council allowed 1 more than the normal 4 slots) spoke during the Public Input period, City Planner Scott Smith presented a report on the Agenda (click here to fly to the bottom of this post to see the report in full.)
Two motions were presented by Councillor McLeman, note that the below quote might not be the official motion that appears in the minutes of the meeting but it is what Councillor McLeman distributed to councillors during the meeting.
Whereas there is already one “dispensary” open on Third Ave and several others wish to open quickly and
Whereas the City Of Port Alberni has no regulations for such facilities and present zoning would likely allow in any area a pharmacy could go in and there are several locations being possibly eyed for one now.
Whereas other cities have been “caught napping” and are now trying to catch up to a problem
I move that the Council for the City of Port Alberni direct staff to come back by the next regular council meeting ( November 23 2015) with recommended zoning and operating conditions for “medical marijuana dispensing facilities” in Port Alberni.
This first motion was passed after a great deal of good discussion on the issue both for and against.
Personally, I firmly believe that two of the three recommendations from the City Planner, letting the RCMP investigate and deal with the issue solely, or wait for other municipalities to come up with a solution, would, due to low enforcement levels, effectively allow the current dispensary to operate without any oversight and control and allow others to start at will. While I completely agreed with Councillor Sauve and Mayor Ruttan that the sale of marijuana was illegal, I disagreed that we should leave it only to the RCMP because I believe we as a City would be left powerless. Since we do have tools as a City to zone property, enact bylaws, and enforce bylaws, by creating special bylaws for marijuana dispensaries, we give ourselves the tools necessary to protect public safety and neighbours as much as we possibly can.
I also stated that, given anecdotal evidence I have seen and heard, I strongly believe there may be medicinal benefits to marijuana. However, dispensaries as they stand now seem to really just be a way for people to access recreational marijuana. That is my opinion but it was something I wanted folks to be aware of. Since I believe the ultimate desire and benefit of the Canadian public is to legalize marijuana completely, I don’t have a problem with this reality. In fact, I would prefer if the ‘dispensaries’ lost the medicinal pretence as I believe that that actually harms their legitimacy. In time, after marijuana is legalized, I am sure there will be extensive research carried out to determine scientifically and conclusively the medicinal benefits and side effects of cannabis and the many compounds it contains and hopefully those medicinal products are distributed through pharmacies just as other drugs are now while the recreational stuff is sold like cigarettes… but that is another topic!
I was also very pleased to see a letter from the neighbouring business at Flandangles. It was a late addition to the Agenda so unfortunately you will not be able to see it until the minutes come to the next meeting on the 23rd, but it was generally very supportive of the dispensary next door and detailed their experience since the dispensary opened. The final statement from the letter was:
“In closing, it appears that all of my fears were misplaced.”
Councillor Sauve and Ruttan spoke most strongly against the motion but I don’t want to attempt to paraphrase them as it would be unfair. However, we did find out during the break that the video recordings of the recent meetings (since the new audio/video equipment was installed) will be posted online in the not-too-distant future. There were some major issues last night apparently with the audio on Shaw Cable but the audio and video on a limited test run of the web stream was excellent so I am hopeful people will be able to view those, live as well as after the fact, soon. Then all will be able to see how all of Council contributed.
Update… Councillor Sauvé has provided his point of view through Facebook and has allowed me to reproduce it here. Thank you Councillor Sauvé!
I feel I must respond to the following blog by this councillor as to what exactly was the motion to which I did not support last night at City council. The motion in part I’m fully in support with one BIG EXCEPTION. The motion last night gave city staff the direction to discuss regulations and zoning of illegal dispensaries at this time.
City representatives have been elected to not only represent of community but also the health and safety of those residents we represent. I agree we must be prepared as to zoning and regulation locations of these dispensaries BUT not when it is still illegal in this country to sell or distribute this drug. Such motion should be in place when the Federal Government puts into place new laws or regulations which will permit distribution of this product in a safe manner.
Presently we have one dispensary to which is operating illegal with no health safety guidelines to its customers. I support the use of this drug for medicinal use and feel it’s best for this Federal Government and Health Canada work quickly to ensure it is clear to the community as to what regulations will be. The Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure such safe product.
What concerns me is that the motion put in place last night gives a clear message that our council wants to regulate something that is clearly ILLEGAL at this present time. I can tell you first hand that the RCMP will not work with the city into regulating something which is clearly still against the law. Doing so we are putting a big liability on the city if God forbid something would happen due to the actions of any dispensary presently distributing this narcotic. The burden of such actions will fall on the tax payers to which all council members took and oath to serve and protect.
Simply said….let’s not put the cart before the horse. We need to BE PATIENT and wait for the Federal Government to implement guidelines on this matter. Until it’s legal, I feel city council and the RCMP have no authority to regulate something that is illegal at the present time. The RCMP have a strong mandate to uphold and turning a blind eye to something illegal is NOT one of them.
The RCMP clearly stated to the media last night that they have a file open and the file remains active.
Until it’s officially legal… I cannot support any illegal dispensary until the law of the land has change and proper precaution are in place to ensure the health and safety of our community.
I do agree we need to prepare for what will be coming…..but until then….the city has no authority to regulate something that is presently illegal and clearly a Federal mandate issue.
Acting alone on this issue and not waiting for proper laws and guidelines in place is simply throwing caution to the air to which I refuse to do.
I’m looking forward and eagerly awaiting the Federal government stance and changes on this issue….but until then I cannot take part in supporting illegal activity.
Councillor Denis Sauve
In the end, it was a recorded vote on this motion so I can say the vote was (in Alphabetical Order):
- FOR : Alemany, McLeman, Minions, Paulson, Washington
- AGAINST: Ruttan, Sauvé
The second motion that was passed on the topic gave City staff some specific suggestions on how to move forward. The discussion was much shorter and it was not a recorded vote. While it isn’t in the written motion below, I suggested during the discussion that the bylaw include a requirement that both non-profits and for-profit dispensaries be required to have a business license so that if any of the requirements imposed in a new bylaw were not met, that license could be revoked by the City and the business shut.
Move that staff work with local businesses and the RCMP to come up with conditions and locations. The conditions could include:- -off hours security
-product safety disclosure posted
-age requirement to enter –suggest 19
– stand alone “dispensaries” only (no coffee shop or other combo)
-must keep records of all suppliers and be prepared to give to RCMP if they request it.
I am very proud of City Council for going in the direction it has and I believe it sends an excellent signal of openness and pro-activeness to the community and even to business owners looking at us from outside. The owner of WeeMedical has said he intends on keeping the business open and also following the rules the City puts in place.
Oh, and one final thing on that topic: I presented a notice of motion, so a motion that would come to the next meeting, asking Staff to write to the Federal Government to urge them to move quickly on the legalization file so that this ‘grey area’ can be resolved and municipalities are not forced to deal with it in such a non-standard way.
News Article From 93.3 The Peak:
City Council will regulate where medical marijuana shops can locate, Councillor Jack McLeman believes the city should get in front of the issue and start planning where pot shops can and can’t go.
McLeman said one of the purposes of his motion was to keep pot shops away from parks and schools. McLeman has also asked that city staff put together a report on medical marijuana shops including a legal opinion. Wee Medical owner [Justin] Liu agreed with the motion which allows his shop to remain open for now.
Wee Medical Marijuana owner [Justin] Liu said he’s impressed with the forward thinking leadership of city council. He’ll keep his Third Avenue store open, barring any police issues with the store that currently employs 4 people.
Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan and councillor Denis Sauve voted against the motion arguing that marijuana is illegal and that trumps all other issues.
Councillors Chris Alemany and Sharie Minions admonished Mayor Mike Ruttan for speaking publically against Wee Medical Marijuana in advance of council’s discussion.
Alemany wants the city to send a letter to the federal government, asking them to move forward quickly on legalizing marijuana.
Port Alberni RCMP Inspector Mac Richards said the medical marijuana shop is the focus of an active investigation.
CITY OF PORT ALBERNI PLANNING DEPARTMENT
Ken Watson, City Manager Scott Smith, City Planner November 2, 2015
A non-profit society (WeeMedical Dispensary Society) has opened a marijuana dispensary in the Uptown on 3rd Avenue. The City has also received verbal inquiries into opening further dispensaries in a variety of areas in the City.
Under the current federal laws, it is illegal to sell marijuana as a storefront operation. The City of Vancouver has chosen to regulate marijuana dispensaries and the City of Victoria is considering similar regulations. There are several unlicensed dispensaries open in Nanaimo including two stores run by WeeMedical. A news report from Nanaimo is attached for information.
A statement on a Supreme Court decision on medical marijuana dated July 8, 2015 is also attached for information. Changes to Federal marijuana laws are possible over the next several years.
The City of Port Alberni, Business License bylaw would not require a business license, for a non-profit business. However, even if a business license were required, the City would not issue one for a marijuana dispensary, as the business is illegal. Because this use is illegal the Zoning bylaw does not have any reference to marijuana dispensaries, except to prohibit a storefront or retail outlet as part of a medical marijuana production facility. If Council wanted to amend City bylaws to address marijuana dispensaries, similar to Vancouver and Victoria, the City would be regulating a business that is currently illegal.
The RCMP has issued the WeeMedical Society a letter outlining the concerns and potential ramifications of their marijuana dispensary.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are a challenging issue for local governments and staff is requesting direction from City Council on how to proceed.
- Rely on local RCMP investigation of marijuana dispensary activity.
- Investigate bylaw amendments to regulate the activity of a marijuana dispensary. The potential pitfall of this bylaw amendment is that we would be regulating an illegal activity, and the use would need to be permitted in some areas.
- Await clarification of similar issues arising from decisions in other B.C. municipalities currently wrestling with this issue.
That the report from the City Planner dated November 2, 2015 be received.
Council direction required.