Staff beef up bylaw ahead of impending marijuana legalization

Specific plans for the legalization of marijuana are expected to come from the feds by Thursday, which the city is using as an opportunity to update its zoning bylaw.

At Monday's meeting, council approved changes to wording in the bylaw that would specifically prohibit convenience stores, retail stores, pharmacies, or medical clinics from selling marijuana.

Councillor Charlie Hodge spoke out against the changes, saying he didn't want to create a larger stigma for people who have legitimate uses for the drug.

"If I'm a senior, or I'm somebody with a disability or someone with a health issue, I want to know how to access my medical marijuana. I don't want to feel like I'm sliding in the back door in some alley somewhere, to pick up my medication."

Other councillors also raised the question about whether this might come back to bite the city when the new legislation is released. 

Mayor Colin Basran assured council that the city is making the change to protect itself.

"Right now, we have people buying properties with the anticipation that someday, dispensaries will be legal. But council may have the conversation that while they may be legal, there may be some areas in our community where we don't want them. So this now puts a blank slate over the city to say it's not allowed, but we will then have a larger conversation when the feds finally get around to changing legislation," he said.

"When the province says here's what our requirements are going to be, which we know will have (an) impact on us, because we will likely be the one to enforce the rules, then we as a council have a much broader conversation about where do we think dispensaries should go in our community. So you're not saying no to any future dispensaries, all we're saying right now is (that) people who want to open one right now, should not."

The staff report says the framework will be developed by the federal and provincial governments, and would likely require potential retailers to get a special zoning, like a liquor primary for a bar, as well as stay off main stretches, like Bernard, Ellis, and Pandosy.

A federal task force has recommended that businesses selling pot should be legalized by the feds and regulated by the provinces, and that cannabis not be sold in the same places as booze or smokes.