Village of Pemberton (VOP) council, at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7, gave third and final reading to its zoning amendment regarding medical marijuana dispensaries. The bylaw was approved at first and second readings in January.
The amendment, based on advice from VOP solicitors, defines and prohibits marijuana operations. The amendment has come up several times over the past few months as SWED Society applied to the VOP to permit a medical marijuana dispensary, and was the subject of a packed public meeting a week earlier in which most attendees voiced approval to allow such dispensaries.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are currently illegal in Canada, although some jurisdictions allow them, including Vancouver. Many jurisdictions are awaiting federal legislation to approve dispensaries, which the Liberal government has said should come by spring.
Coun. Karen Ross said they don't know what the federal government's legislation will look like.
"That's the reason we are sitting here," she said. "What is this type of retail operation going to look like — if we open it up to a Temporary Use Permit (TUP), it would allow us to try it out, then we set our own rules for the community."
Numerous people at the public meeting suggested the TUP as the way to proceed, which would allow the VOP to hone its business-licence bylaw in the wake of federal approval.
If the VOP were to not amend the bylaw, it would permit medical dispensaries, and if federal approval is granted, then there would be no retreating from what was already in place. In effect, operations could be grandfathered in with no hope of change.
In an amusing analogy, VOP Mike Richman said what seems to be tripping up some observers is the responsibility of the SWED Society.
"At the public meeting, there was a lot of talk about the SWED Society, whether they were responsible enough. This isn't about SWED, this is about zoning," he said. "If we allow zoning for it right now because this operation does a great job, maybe Coun. (Ted) Craddock opens up Craddocks's Pot Emporium and maybe he's not so responsible about it."
VOP Planner Lisa Pedrini said the beauty of a TUP is that it's a means for allowing a business to open on a temporary basis, and the VOP can apply conditions.
"You can have distancing requirements," said Pedrini, such as restrictions that don't permit the operation of the business near schools, libraries, or parks. "And maybe that gets built into the regulations once the zoning bylaw review tackles this item."
The SWED Society already has a business licence for the sale of related products, such as glass and giftware that is in compliance with the VOP business bylaw.
Coun. Jennie Helmer said approving the bylaw amendment is the prudent course of action.
"I would support passing the bylaw (amendment), see what the feds do and then decide as a community where we want this business to go," she said.
Richman said: "Hopefully, within the next few months, (the federal government) gives us more details and that gives us a chance to do a more thorough job."