Comox council came under fire recently, for the introduction of Comox Zoning Amendment Bylaw 1880, which would prohibit the sale of cannabis within the town limits.
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.
He told The Record last week the bylaw is the first step of a two-step process. The second step, he explained, will set some parameters around where and when retail sales can occur.
While final reading on the bylaw has been tabled for a couple of weeks, the groundwork for cannabis sales allowance still requires attention in Comox.
How does that differ from the other municipalities in the Comox Valley?
The city has a zoning bylaw in place, prohibiting the sale of marijuana. The bylaw will have to be amended before any retail licences are granted.
According to Mayor Larry Jangula, City staff have been directed to study the issue and present council with a report.
“Right now, our zoning bylaw does not permit the sale of marijuana. It’s currently illegal and that’s always been our position,” he said. “We are waiting for recommendations from staff for the future, but we are still waiting for instructions from senior government. We may go through a whole process and then find out that’s not what the [federal government] wants at all.”
Jangula had no timeline as to when City staff would be bringing recommendations to council. Their concerns are similar to those expressed by Ives.
“We are not really different from [Comox] – I think we feel much the same way,” he said. “We need some instruction. I think we all want to do it right – we all want a system that works for everyone… but at the moment, we don’t know what that is. We are waiting to see what our staff recommends. We are waiting to see what other communities are doing. We are waiting to see what the province is doing and what the feds are doing.”
He said there are far too many unanswered questions at this time – questions that must be addressed by senior government – before entertaining any thoughts of local retail outlets.
“The thing that’s frustrating to me is that the feds want to legalize it without doing a lot of research or thinking about how it is going to be done,”said Jangula. “How is it going to be regulated? Who is going to control it? The province hasn’t done anything yet either. We are still waiting for them. So in the meantime, everybody is coming up with their own rules, and it’s very confusing. Do you have a limit on the number of retailers? Do you control the retailers? Do you put them downtown? Because some of the downtown merchants are alright with it, but a lot of them are not. So there’s all those issues. It would’ve been nice if the feds or the province would’ve given us some leadership on this file.
“Obviously if they push that July 1 date we will have to have something in place… What that will be, I cannot even predict.”
Cumberland already has a bylaw in place prohibiting the sale of marijuana (Zoning Bylaw 1027). Rob Crisfield, manager of operations for the Village, said before any retail operations open in Cumberland, that bylaw will have to be amended.
Mayor Leslie Baird said once legalization is official, she anticipates seeing retail outlets in the village in relatively quick fashion.
“I figure it won’t take long once it’s legalized, but there is a process people will have to follow,” she said. “But we also have to look at what type of legislation is brought in.”
When Cumberland council originally entertained the possibility of medical marijuana outlets, in 2016, the groundwork was laid regarding numbers of retail outlets to be allowed, and specifics regarding proximity to the school, as well as to each other.
“We don’t even know yet whether the federal or provincial law is going to regulate how many [outlets] we have,” said Baird. “So that’s part of what we are waiting to see.”
At that time, Cumberland council was planning to set a limit to two outlets. A total of four companies put forth proposals. Baird said any company interested in opening a retail outlet in Cumberland will have to re-apply.
Other Valley communities
While individual business licences are not required for the other communities in the regional district (i.e. Royston, Merville), the RD does have a prohibitive zoning bylaw in place that will require amendment prior to any retail outlets being approved and any of the outlying areas.
“The CVRD is considering its approach to production and distribution of cannabis as a land use through the ongoing zoning bylaw review,” said Jennifer Steel, manager of corporate communications for the Comox Valley Regional District.
Staff will be presenting a proposed new comprehensive zoning bylaw to the electoral area services committee in May.
The public will have an opportunity to review and comment on the entire proposed new zoning bylaw (including proposed zoning regulations for production and distribution of cannabis) in May.
Note: All local bylaws in place refer to marijuana specifically in the medical context, as that was – and remains – the only legal form of marijuana production and consumption in Canada. Though the bylaws do not address recreational use specifically, they will all have to be amended before any recreational use retail outlets are approved.