Municipal governments weigh in on cannabis laws for BC

Recommendations and requests from nine BC town and city councils

British Columbia’s NDP government called for submissions throughout October from legalization stakeholders including local municipal governments, unions, professional associations, commercially licensed producers, and the general public.

While numerous submissions were offered from private sector interests, submissions were also entered by nine local town and city councils. Here’s a breakdown of what those councils had to say.

Common ground

There are almost no points on which local governments who submitted responses agree completely, but support seems to be universal for the federally set age of 19 years as the minimum to legally buy, sell, or possess cannabis, thus maintaining consistency with B.C.’s existing alcohol and tobacco laws.

Possession

While all local government submissions support the Cannabis Act’s in-public personal possession limit of 30g for adults, differences of opinion arise in how to address possession incidents involving minors.

Whereas Bill C-45 currently includes provisions allowing youths below the minimum legal age to possess up to 5 grams of cannabis without incurring criminal charges—nor the subsequent criminal record—both the District of West Vancouver and the Town of Oliver stated a preference for an outright prohibition on possession of any amount by youths, with the caveat that violations should result in ticketed fines and confiscation, rather than criminal charges.

The Village of Cumberland also suggested youth infractions should be ticketed instead of criminalized, but without opposing the federal government’s 5 gram legal possession limit. Meanwhile the Town of View Royal and the City of Parksville supported the federal 5 gram limit.

Cultivation

A topic with wide-ranging opinions among respondents, personal cultivation may provide one of the biggest challenges for the provincial government to build a framework around.

Cumberland, Parksville, Vernon, and View Royal all assert that local governments should be given the ability to regulate the specifics of personal cannabis production. In direct opposition, the City of North Vancouver suggests personal cultivation laws should be consistent province-wide, without variation, and that the provincial government should bear the responsibility of monitoring and enforcing regulations.

However it lands, that decision may prove especially important given the variety of preferences stated by different municipalities.

For example, West Vancouver calls for personal cultivation to be limited to indoor only, with Parksville adding that plants should be undetectable from any location off the premises. Port Coquitlam wants a complete ban on personal cultivation altogether, citing concerns over damage to residential property, electrical safety, and criminal elements. Meanwhile, the Town of Oliver supports the federal government’s allowance of personal production with no restrictions on visibility or location, explicitly stating plants should be allowed anywhere on the property.

Commercial production received little input from local governments, although Port Coquitlam suggested federal and provincial safety requirements be set for commercial production sites, and the Town of Oliver stated a preference that commercial production be restricted to industrial zones, with the option for additional regulation at the municipal level to address security and odour abatement.

Distribution

As with responses regarding cultivation, opinions about distribution seem split down the middle among various communities.

Midway, Oliver, and View Royal all call for distribution to be restricted to a Crown corporation, each with their own additional stipulations. Midway wants to explicitly prohibit home-based distribution businesses, while View Royal suggests a complete ban on advertising, and the Town of Oliver recommends creating a Cannabis Control Board similar to the BC Liquor Control Board, to make local bylaw amendments easier to implement.

North Vancouver stated it bears little concern over distribution methods as long as the provincial model prohibits retail sales from occurring at wholesale distribution locations. Parksville is similarly ambivalent about distribution models, with the proviso that authority be delegated to local governments to regulate the location, density and hours of retailers through zoning and business licence bylaws.

Meanwhile, West Vancouver, Vernon, and Cumberland all favour basing cannabis distribution on the current model for alcohol, with both government and private sales. West Vancouver posits that the provincial government should handle licensing of private cannabis stores.

Vernon points out that restricting sales to government-owned outlets only would result in the majority of revenues leaving the community, while Cumberland suggests the inclusion of cooperative and social enterprise models that might instead keep revenues in communities to help fund addiction services.

Public consumption

Similarly to cultivation regulations, a difference of opinions exists not only in how public consumption should be regulated, but in who should set those regulations.

North Vancouver suggests public consumption laws should apply province-wide without variation, and should include regulation of all forms of cannabis consumption, including smoking, vaping, edibles, and cannabis beverages.

Conversely, West Vancouver, Port Coquitlam, Vernon, and Oliver all stated a preference for local governments to retain the ability to set further restrictions through bylaws and zoning regulations.

All responding municipalities indicated support for regulating public consumption similarly to tobacco smoke and vapour products. The easiest way to accomplish that may be to follow West Vancouver’s suggestion to simply add cannabis to the Smoking and Vapour Products Control Act.

Submissions from both Midway and View Royal also recommend public cannabis use be regulated similarly to alcohol, although both agree with the notion that impairment (especially with edibles) may be too difficult to enforce, suggesting it could be more practical to default to the existing public intoxication laws, which already cover impairment from any substance.

Impaired driving

All councils but one indicated that road safety should be treated the same for cannabis impairment as for alcohol impairment, including public awareness and education campaigns, zero tolerance policies for drivers with ‘N’ and ‘L’ classifications who are caught driving impaired, and funding at the provincial and federal levels to provide for Standard Field Sobriety Test and Drug Recognition Expert training.

Cumberland was the sole exception, suggesting that no changes are needed to impaired driving provisions as the Criminal Code already prohibits impaired driving of all varieties, and police already have the power to issue a 24-hour roadside prohibition for impaired driving.

Revenue sharing and enforcement funding

Another chorus sung in unison was the call for administrative revenues (such as the provincial and federal excise taxes) to be shared with municipalities to offset the cost of administration and enforcement.

Most suggested both the provincial and federal portions of excise taxes should contribute to the municipal share, with the Town of Oliver recommending the share be set at 20 percent of the total revenue. Port Coquitlam, however, suggested splitting the provincial share fifty-fifty, with half going to the province and half to be divided amongst the municipalities.

Good ideas

Some of the responding councils had additional noteworthy suggestions.

The Village of Midway expressed support for cannabis lounges, and recommended public consumption regulations be revisited throughout the early stages of legalization to ensure the legislation is working as intended.

Port Coquitlam echoed a similar desire, albeit expanded to revisit the full body of provincial cannabis regulations after the first year, adding that the opportunity for public consultation should be offered again during the review period. Also advised was the adherence to an ethos of erring on the side of caution, arguing that it’s easier to relax restrictions post facto than to constrict them.

Perhaps the best suggestion came from West Vancouver’s district council, who recommended the province should keep highly detailed tracking and statistical records, to help inform future amendments.

Featured image by David J Laporte.

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