A request to the Village of Pemberton (VOP) council to amend zoning to allow for a medical marijuana dispensary has forced a quick and concerning debate for councillors.
At the regular council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 4, a letter from Joseph Le requested a zoning bylaw change in order to allow a dispensary in the downtown core.
But council was immediately confronted with the dilemma of which approach to take, and recognized that they are dealing with something they know little about.
Coun. Jennie Helmer expressed grave concern that medical marijuana doesn't seem to be regulated, and spoke of her first-hand experience as an advanced life-support paramedic in Vancouver who has has witnessed the effects.
Helmer said there are varying degrees of potency of THC — or tetrahydrocannabinol — in marijuana, and the effects are frightening.
"People just go crazy," she said. "There isn't any testing of (medicinal marijuana) and what we see are cases of excited delirium. They are hard to restrain, and it's hard on their bodies — their hearts are just racing. It's a drain on resources."
Helmer raised questions about a zoning amendment that would allow the sale of medicinal marijuana, and what precedent that could set for Pemberton.
"I think we should really understand what medical dispensary really means — I think we should have all the facts," she said.
Medicinal marijuana is subject to testing, but the procedure for that is unclear even from Health Canada. Dried marijuana must be produced within stringent guidelines and by a licensed practitioner (LP), but the government website states: "It is the LP's responsibility to decide on the specifications and methods to be used for testing."
Said Helmer:"I find it difficult that we allow this to happen." She added that she and her colleagues noticed the reactions among patients about a year-and-a-half ago, but are now tending to acute situations about once a month.
One option raised by Coun. Ted Craddock was to follow the Vancouver lead and establish a $30,000 business licence fee. But Pemberton Chief Administrative Officer Nikki Gilmore said that once a business licence is granted and zoning is amended, that is grandfathered into the bylaws and licensing.
Another option is to amend the zoning, but a medical dispensary would fall under a retail business licence, which has restrictions, but may not carry enough restrictions for council to be comfortable with.
Mayor Mike Richman suggested putting the zoning amendment on hold, gathering information from neighbouring communities that have faced similar predicaments, and putting the matter over to a Committee of the Whole meeting for study was the best course of action.
"We're going to be faced with this sooner rather than later in town, zoning is the way to look at it," he said.
Added Helmer: "We need to have more information before we have a business operating."