Public hearing set for controversial Comox cannabis bylaw

Mayor says proposed ban of retail cannabis outlets is a temporary measure, until groundwork is done

On Wednesday, April 4, the Town of Comox will hold a public hearing regarding zoning amendment bylaw 1880 – an amendment to prohibit the sale of cannabis within the town.

The public reaction to the proposed ban has been mostly negative, fuelled to a degree by a concern that the long-term plan of council is to keep retail marijuana outlets out of Comox.

According to Comox Mayor Paul Ives, the amendment is being sought to buy time for the Town to plan for the impending legalization of recreational marijuana sales and use.

“The [ban] is the first step,” he said. “Then there will be a second step, which will set some parameters around where, and when retail sales of cannabis can occur. We are simply adopting a two-step approach here: an initial ban so that we can set up some criteria regarding where we want to see these stores… and then sometime later this year having some regulations established as to where and when retail stores will be allowed.”

Ives compared it to the rules adopted by the Town when the privatization of liquor sales was allowed in the province.

“It’s similar to what we’ve done in the past with liquor stores: You can’t just put a liquor store in any zone. There are specific requirements in regards to distance from schools and things like that, that have to apply.”

Ives said he is hopeful a staff report setting the groundwork for criteria will be presented to council by the summer.

“This is really another example I suppose, of the provincial and federal [governments] downloading [decisions] onto us. They’ve left that issue up to us to deal with, as to where they are going to be, how many, what hours of operation, all that stuff. We just want to make sure we get it all in order before the gate is opened.”

He said there has been some casual interest from potential retailers to date, but no serious inquiries yet, regarding such business licences in Comox.

“We’ve had some interest, casually, from places as far away as Ontario, interestingly enough. There are businesses there that are looking at the Ontario model and are obviously going to be out of business (Ontario will be strictly government run) and I guess they are looking at B.C. communities as places they want to go. But we don’t have any submitted applications yet – people can’t even do that yet.”

Many municipalities are waiting to receive information from the province, regarding any plans for government-run locations in their communities.

In February, the province unveiled plans to open standalone government-run cannabis outlets, but offered no details as to how many government-run stores there would be in the province, or where those outlets would be located.

“Even the province hasn’t given us a whole lot of information around where they are going to be… will they have a government store in Comox, or Courtenay? How many private stores are they going to allow? Will they limit the number of licences? All that remains to be determined,” said Ives. “So staff are saying to us, ‘let’s close the door here right now, and open it up once we get more information.’ ”

The public hearing will be at d’Esterre House in Comox (1801 Beaufort Ave.), Wednesday, 7 p.m.

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