Pubdate: Thu, 11 Feb 2016
Source: Alberni Valley News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Alberni Valley News
Author: Katya Slepian


Port Alberni becomes second city in Canada to regulate marijuana

The number of marijuana dispensaries in Port Alberni has increased to
seven since Justin Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister last November.

Trudeau was elected, in part, on a promise to legalize

"We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana," reads
the platform of the Liberal Party of Canada-though no details are
given about what speed this legalization might occur.

For marijuana dispensaries in Port Alberni however, it doesn't seem to
have mattered.

It took mere days after Trudeau's win for WeeMedical to open its doors
on Third Avenue.

"The writing's on the wall... the Liberals are in, it's being
legalized," operator Justin Liu said at the time.

As of today, Liu, has received one warning letter from the Port
Alberni RCMP informing him that "if your illegal business practices do
not cease, I will consider taking action in the future which may
include your business being subject to search and seizure of offence
related evidence and persons associated with your business being
subject to charges related to contraventions of the CDSA (Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act) for unlawful possession of cannabis
marijuana, for possession of cannabis marijuana for the purpose of
trafficking and for trafficking cannabis marijuana."

But as of yet, the Liberal government hasn't come forward with a plan,
a timeline or a strategy.

According to the Canadian Press, a briefing note for Trudeau that they
obtained via an Access to Information request states that not only
will the federal government have to negotiate with the province in
order to legalize marijuana, Canada will have to negotiate
internationally as well.

Currently, Canadian Press reported, Canada is a signatory to three
international conventions that require "the criminalization of
possession and production of cannabis."

In an interview with Canadian Press, Errol Mendes, a constitutional
and international law expert at the University of Ottawa, said that
while the international conventions make legalization difficult, they
don't make it impossible.

"There's no international treaty where you cannot make reservations,"
Mendes told the Canadian Press.

"The problem is the government having to explain why it's doing it,
why it feels it has to do it..."

But while the federal government works on delivering its platform
promise, municipalities are left to grapple with dispensaries popping
up in their storefronts. And given this is a federal issue, there
doesn't seem much that municipalities can do.

Currently, selling marijuana-whether medical or recreational-is
illegal under Canadian law, said Port Alberni RCMP Inspector Mac Richards.

Despite this, the City of Port Alberni voted to regulate medical
marijuana dispensaries at its Jan. 25 meeting.

It wasn't an unanimous decision. Throughout the three months that city
council debated the issue, it was split between Mayor Mike Ruttan and
Coun. Denis Sauve on the 'no' side and the rest of council on the 'yes' 

"When I made an oath to this office, I made sure that I follow certain
ethics to protect the community.

"The fact is that you're asking the city to regulate an illegal
activity--I'm not going to support letting this dispensary operate
illegally," said Sauve, a retired RCMP officer.

"I have consistently not voted in favour because I do not believe that
it's the right thing for us to do," Ruttan said mid-January.

He added that he believed it was "unfair" for the federal government
to have downloaded it onto municipalities-but that he was committed to
upholding council's decision.

"But it doesn't matter-this is what council has voted for and I
believe that council's position is fairly clear. It is this council's
best attempt to control the uncontrollable."

Coun. Sharie Minions, though she voted for regulations,

"It shouldn't be on the municipal agenda but it is a problem in our
community. If we wait it will probably just get worse and worse and
worse by the time the federal government does something about it," she

Couns. Jack McLeman voiced approval over the city acting proactively
on the issue.

"Other towns have had marijuana dispensaries open up and they're
getting themselves way behind the eight ball trying to catch up,"
McLeman said.

"I would like to see Port Alberni be proactive and control if they
become legal where they are and if they're not legal, get rid of them
in the end."

Port Alberni became the second city in the country to implement
marijuana dispensary regulations.

Vancouver was the first city in Canada to regulate marijuana when it
passed bylaws spelling out the requirements for opening up either a
medical marijuana dispensary or a compassion club.

The latter of the two requires a non-profit licence from the province
and both require a business licence-$30,000 for dispensaries and
$1,000 for compassion clubs.

The regulations imposed in Vancouver and Port Alberni are similar:
either 300 metres or 1,000 m from schools and other dispensaries and
only in certain commercial zones.

However, both cities have regulations that perplex Aaron Brevick, a
Port Alberni native who recently returned from Fort St. John and
opened a medical dispensary on Athol Street.

"My concerns basically went unheard [by city council]," said

"For me, I've always been told 'we don't care if you smoke pot but
don't leave it out, don't have a bong sitting around when people come
to your house."

He'd prefer a more discreet approach.

"I'm not a big fan of the open glass storefront policy that's being
mandated. I believe that people should have the choice of privacy,"
said Brevick.

"Just being open a week, I've had so many people express gratitude for
having a place that is quiet."

Brevick isn't happy with how short the time was between the 5 p.m.
Jan. 25 public hearing and the 7 p.m. council meeting where the
regulations were approved.

"They moved ahead with it so fast with only 10 minutes between
meetings. That to me says that they did not consider any public input."

While time between meetings was short, marijuana dispensaries have
been discussed by either the public, staff or council at all six
council meetings since the first dispensary opened its doors in Port

Brevick remains unconvinced that due process was given.

"They never should have done this," said Brevick but admitted that it
is dispensaries like his that have put municipalities across the
country in the position that they are.

The City of Saskatoon considered regulation at a Feb. 8 committee
meeting. A staff report stated that federal and provincial governments
would have to approve business licences for a medical marijuana dispensary.

The City of Victoria is also considering regulations and currently
collecting public input from residents.

It's unclear what role the province will play in the marijuana debate.
In October, Premier Christy Clark said she'd work with the feds on
whatever they proposed.

"If and when they make changes, we'll work with them to make sure that
the changes can be effective in B.C.," Christy Clark said in an
October 2015 Black Press article.
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