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Legalization could reduce the variety of marijuana products

Tax revenue and impairment at workplace among topics discussed at corridor pot forum

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Those hoping marijuana legalization will bring more pot products and more tax revenue to Squamish may be disappointed when cannabis becomes a government-backed business.

That was one of the takeaways from a panel of politicians and experts at a Squamish Chamber of Commerce forum held in the West Coast Railway Museum on Sept. 20.

The discussion concentrated on cannabis legalization, which is set to happen on Oct. 17.

"There's going to be many changes," said Tania Jackett of the Cannabis Growers of Canada.

"For example, the dispensaries are not going to be able to sell edibles ... they're not going to be able to sell topicals, we're not going to be allowed to have any branded packaging and do any marketing, as well."

As a result, consumers may have less to choose from if their local dispensaries currently offer those products.

This also means customers won't know where their product is grown or where it comes from, she said.

Legalization will also bring more administrative hoops to jump through.

"Come Oct. 17, it will be illegal for the dispensaries that are currently running," said Jackett. "They will have to apply for their licensing."

In addition to municipal business licences that are already required, operators will have to get licences from the province.

The District, however, intends to give a grace period for cannabis businesses if the province's processing time doesn't line up with municipal business licence renewal dates, said District planner Aja Philp.

However, operators must notify the District of their application to the province, she said.

When it comes to the municipality's coffers, it seems unlikely that marijuana will create a tax windfall for the District of Squamish.

"From a local taxation point of view, we don't have the ability through BC Assessment to differentiate with the classes, so if you are a retail business, you will have the same tax rate as if you're selling widgets," said Mayor Patricia Heintzman.

"It's the same tax rate-there's no extra. BC Assessment will assess the value of your business. We assess one tax rate for the class."

The one way in which things could differ is the issuing of licences, said Heintzman.

"We have the ability to charge different business licence fees," she said.

The District charges $5,000 for marijuana dispensaries, which is more expensive than others. However, Heintzman said that municipalities probably won't be able to charge premiums unless they can provide a reason for the added cost.

For example, she said, if a municipality can reason that grow-ops will increase the amount of bylaw monitoring or firefighters needed, then the higher price could be justified.

"So there might be a tiny bit of extra revenue from business licence fees, but it's not anything exponential that will dramatically affect our bottom line," she added.

Some places, like Vancouver-which is billing $30,000-are charging far more for marijuana business licences, Heintzman said, but those rates probably either have or will be challenged.

Local MLA Jordan Sturdy said income from the sale of pot would be split between the federal and provincial government, with provinces taking 75 per cent of the share.

He noted that there hasn't been a clear agreement on revenue sharing between the province and municipalities.

"There is going to be some sort of revenue-share with the municipalities, but at this point, there is nothing definitive," Sturdy said.

Heintzman added that the Union of B.C. Municipalities has passed a resolution that would ask the province to give local governance some cash.

Something that would concern many businesses in the Sea to Sky would be how marijuana's legalization could affect behaviour at work.

Lawyer Geoffrey Howard said rules regarding pot at the jobsite would likely mirror that of alcohol.

"Things aren't really changing that much," said Howard. "In many ways ... it is going to become similar to alcohol, in terms of workplace law."

Similar to booze, employers should be able to bar the recreational use of pot from the workplace, but will have to be more lenient if a colleague has an addiction.

This would mean addiction to the marijuana would not be a fireable offence, as dictated by the BC Human Rights Code.

Howard said it would be considered a disability, similar to alcohol addiction, where employers may have to give their workers time to rehabilitate themselves and establish conditions for treatment.

Cases of cannabis addiction are, however, relatively rare when compared with alcohol.

Use of medical marijuana will be allowed to treat disabilities such as chronic pain, so employers have an obligation to extend "reasonable accommodation to the point of undue hardship," he said.

This means there could be leeway for people who take pot for medical reasons, but Howard said for certain types of work, employers can effectively bar marijuana use.

He said for safety-sensitive jobs-such as construction, heavy equipment operations or anything where physical danger is a possibility-employers can take a hardline approach.

"You can have a very strict policy-no impairment," Howard said.

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