Cities want power over medical pot storefronts

Housing, environment issues dominate debate at Lower Mainland Local Government Association

Medical marijuana dispensaries have sprung up all over Vancouver.

Medical marijuana dispensaries have sprung up all over Vancouver.

Lower Mainland municipalities are collectively demanding authority to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries even though Vancouver is the only city so far actively trying to exert control.

A resolution seeking acceptance of municipal authority passed a vote of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) last week, with Surrey delegates opposed.

Pot storefronts have sprung up in several cities but have mostly been beaten back, except in Vancouver, where city council is trying to regulate rather than stamp out the more than 80 local dispensaries.

Surrey Coun. Bruce Hayne, who sits on the LMLGA executive, said medical pot dispensaries are a non-issue in his city.

“We don’t have any dispensaries in Surrey and we’re not looking at licensing any at all,” Hayne said. “If they do spring up they are illegal and we have the recourse to shut them down from there.”

He said municipalities have been frustrated with the federal government’s medical marijuana policy, from the previous system that allowed problematic home grows to the new mail-order-only model of commercial producers that “seemed like a reasonable solution” but is now mired in court challenges.

Surrey is policed by the RCMP but the story is similar across the river in New Westminster, where its municipal police force has also taken a no-tolerance stand.

New Westminster Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said one dispensary tried to open – initially calling itself an information centre as it sought to clear various hurdles – but police raided it and the operators were charged with trafficking.

Vancouver’s policy aims to regulate locations and set a $30,000 licensing fee.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has urged the city to shift course and shut down dispensaries, warning they send a signal to youth that drug use is normal.

Puchmayr said he supports municipalities having the power to control dispensaries even though his city didn’t consider that viable.

“Our legal opinion in New Westminster was that it was quite clearly not a permissible use,” he said. “Vancouver’s obviously interpreting it differently. And in doing so they’ve seen this proliferation in medical marijuana dispensaries and therefore they’re asking for some regulatory help from senior levels of government.”

Housing, mental health at forefront

Problems related to homelessness, housing affordability and mental health inspired several resolutions from councils in Maple Ridge, Langley, Delta and the Fraser Valley Regional District.

Resolutions approved by LMLGA delegates included calls for higher rent subsidies for people on income assistance, more housing aid for mentally challenged adults, and that the federal government re-introduce tax incentives to build rental housing.

Puchmayr and Hayne both said cities are facing higher costs as police time is spent dealing with the mentally ill, who aren’t getting the support they need from the health system.

“We’re getting crushed and we simply can’t do it alone,” Hayne said.

“We need a national strategy on homelessness, particularly on housing, and we need the provincial government to step up in a big way on mental health and addictions.”

Another resolution that passed in a close vote was Richmond’s call for B.C. to enact an environmental bill of rights giving each resident a right to a healthy environment, clean air, clean water, clean food and vibrant ecosystems.

Hayne and many other delegates who opposed it felt it was outside municipal jurisdiction.

Many of the resolutions go on to the provincial civic leaders’ forum – the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in the fall – in search of province-wide endorsement.

Resolution roundup

Among the resolutions passed at LMLGA:

– Richmond wants the federal government to force Port Metro Vancouver to sell recently purchased agricultural land, including the 229-acre Gilmore farm, and prohibit the port and its subsidiaries from buying any more ALR land in Metro Vancouver for port purposes.

-Delta wants the province to broaden the scope of environmental impact assessments for projects that may have impacts away from their footprint, such as the effects of port expansion projects further inland.

– A Vancouver call for senior governments to include and fund the participation of municipalities in planning for spills of oil and other hazardous substances

– A New Westminster call for B.C.’s now-frozen carbon tax to start increasing again in 2018 by $50 per tonne each year, equivalent to about one cent a litre.

– A West Vancouver proposal to require climate change warning labels on all gas pump handles.

– That the province delay the planned closure of the Burrard Thermal natural gas power station pending a review of the rationale.

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