BRITISH COLUMBIA

Victoria set to draft pot-shop bylaws as federal government tries to intervene

05/08/2015 01:25 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - Victoria has become the latest British Columbia city to draft new bylaws for medical marijuana dispensaries, as Vancouver considers a plan to regulate illegal pot shops.

City council in the province's capital voted Thursday to ask staff to draft business licensing and zoning regulations, which could impose fees and new rules on security, record keeping and selling to minors.

Mayor Lisa Helps said she thought it was a "good sign" when Victoria Police Insp. Scott McGregor told council at the meeting that the department doesn't object to regulation.

"We have a very effective and dedicated police force who are (focused on) organized crime and hard drugs," she said. "They don't have time and energy to be running around busting 18-year-olds selling marijuana across the counter."

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has called on Vancouver to halt its plan to regulate pot shops. In letters to the city, she wrote there is no "grey zone" when it comes to medical marijuana, that selling it across the counter is illegal and that police must enforce the law.

But Helps said there is a grey area and that police have said they've tried to bust shops suspected of selling pot but the courts have tossed the charges.

"There's a fundamental disconnect between federal legislation and what the courts are willing to prosecute. And so, municipalities are left to plug the holes with our arguably ineffective and not-strong-enough tools."

The city has jurisdiction to regulate land use, but not the selling of products. However, Helps said she hopes that stricter record-keeping requirements will limit the flow of illegally grown marijuana into the stores.

Helps added she is especially concerned that the unregulated sale of pot is easing access for youth, who she said can suffer from early-onset schizophrenia and psychosis.

As for whether a strongly worded letter from Ambrose would affect Victoria's plans, Helps replied, "No, of course not."

Coun. Ben Isitt introduced the motion to draft new regulations, which passed 7-1. He said staff are expected to take several months to come up with them before the public will have an opportunity to weigh in during a town hall.

He said he expects the regulations to be similar to those proposed in Vancouver, where city council is considering a $30,000 licensing fee and strict rules about where stores can be located.

Isitt said prohibition hasn't worked and youth have been getting their hands on marijuana for decades, even before the number of dispensaries in Victoria increased to 18 from four in the past year.

"I hope the federal government will recognize that the war on drugs has failed and public opinion in Canada supports the regulation and taxation of marijuana."

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver