TOWN OF PORT MCNEILL PHOTO                                Port McNeill mayor and council passed first reading of its cannabis prohibition bylaw, which they say just is a temporary measure.

TOWN OF PORT MCNEILL PHOTO Port McNeill mayor and council passed first reading of its cannabis prohibition bylaw, which they say just is a temporary measure.

Port McNeill’s cannabis sales prohibition bylaw passes first reading

Port McNeill will hold a bylaw public consultation at its June 18 council meeting at 7:00 p.m.

Port McNeill wants to temporarily ban non-medicinal cannabis retail inside the town’s jurisdiction until they are able to form a marijuana committee to help shed some light on the subject.

A zoning bylaw, researched and drafted by Port McNeill’s Deputy Administrator Pete Nelson-Smith, to prohibit non-medicinal cannabis retail within the town’s jurisdiction, was received for first reading at the town’s regular council meeting June 4.

Nelson-Smith provided council with some background information on Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act, stating the bill should be coming into effect in July of 2018 and that it would decriminalize cannabis in Canada and authorize the retail sale of cannabis, subject to provincial legislation and local government bylaws.

“It is anticipated that in British Columbia, the wholesale distribution of non-medicinal cannabis will be solely through the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB),” wrote Nelson-Smith. “The liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) will be responsible for licensing and monitoring the retail sales. It is expected that the process will resemble that of opening a liquor retail store. The LCLB must consult with local governments regarding applications for non-medicinal cannabis retail outlets. The local government must obtain public input in making its recommendation to the province and must notify the LCLB by way of resolution (for or against the outlet).”

Nelson-Smith continued, noting the town has employed the services of a lawyer for advice moving forward with these recommendations, and the intention of “the zoning amendment is to prohibit non-medicinal cannabis retail within the town’s jurisdiction. This is an interim measure that will remain in place until related provincial and federal legislation and regulations are implemented, staff conduct public engagement and development of municipal regulation of such uses, and council considers and adopts a municipal regulatory program for non-medicinal cannabis sales.”

Port McNeill’s proposed timeline for non-medicinal cannabis legalization is as follows:

June 4 – First reading of zoning bylaw amendment No. 671, 2016 to include the definition of “Cannabis Retail” and text to temporarily prohibit the retail sale of cannabis in the boundary of the Town of Port McNeill;

June 6 – Two week advertisement of public consultation process to amend zoning bylaw;

June 18 – Public consultation at regular council meeting. Second reading of bylaw;

July 16 – Adopt Zoning Bylaw Amendment No. 687, 2018. Third and final reading;

July/August – Review provincial requirements for non-medicinal cannabis retail upon the federal government’s proposed legalization of non-medicinal cannabis;

July/August – Advertise for committee members to make recommendations to council on non-medicinal cannabis retail in the boundary of the Town of Port McNeill (two weeks). Include council representative, Town of Port McNeill staff member, RCMP, retail property owners, prospective non-medicinal cannabis retailers, residential interests (group of seven);

August/September – Commence with committee meeting and formulate recommendations to council on zoning amendments, business licensing bylaws, nuisance bylaws, health and safety, building recommendations, and other considerations; and

October/December – Bring recommendations forward to council.

When it came time for discussion about the bylaw, Coun. Graham MacDonald was the first to speak.

“First of all, they’re selling cannabis out there already, I find it a little comical to put it in a bylaw to not allow it,” he laughed, before adding he wanted to move forward with the first reading.

“I fully support it,” noted Coun. Jay Dixon.

Council then voted unanimously to pass first reading of the bylaw (Coun. Aaron Frost was absent from the meeting, so his vote was not accounted for).

During the question and answer period at the end of the council meeting, resident and local business owner Derek Koel noted he had actually wrote to the town’s administration back on January 16 requesting for the issue to be addressed, “and I was told ‘no, it will not be brought to council’. To me, that’s a little disappointing — I feel anyone should be able to write a letter to council and it should cross your desk.”

Koel then asked if the schedule for the bylaw was strategically done to saddle the decision with the next mayor and council (2018 is a municipal election year).

Coun. Shelley Downey stated the town was waiting for mayor and council to attend the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), which was held in the middle of April in Victoria this year, “and information was gathered there which was then brought back to council — and at the same time there was a lot of documentation coming out of Victoria from the provincial government. The timeline that is before us now is because we’ve pulled all this stuff together.”

Koel argued that the District of Port Hardy “basically did the same thing a year ago — it’s frustrating to me that it’s been on the rise and people want to make business decisions and now we’re going to be way behind the eight ball.”

Downey reiterated that all decisions regarding the sale of non-medicinal cannabis in the town will be looked at by the marijuana committee that will be forming in July/August.

“And who will choose the committee?” asked Koel.

Downey said she wasn’t exactly sure at the moment, but guessed it would be based on interest shown.

The Gazette asked each councillor if they would like to explain why they voted in favour of the bylaw, with MacDonald stating he wants this “to move forward… hopefully we’re going to be ahead on it, which is the whole idea here.”

Dixon stood firm with his previous statement about fully supporting the bylaw, stating that he wants community members ”to express themselves on either side of the argument,” adding, “Just because other communities nearby are doing something, doesn’t mean the Town of Port McNeill needs to follow suit, as we have our own identity. I encourage people to come and let us know how they feel, because this is an important decision and I agree with Derek, we need to move forward with this and not have it become a large election item. I think we need to truly think about what our identity is in Port McNeill and where we stand.”

Downey declined the opportunity to explain her vote.

The Town of Port McNeill will be holding a public consultation regarding the bylaw at its June 18 regular council meeting at 7:00 p.m.