The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) recently laid out its vision for how marijuana should be regulated and distributed in the resort with Ottawa's July deadline for legalization approaching.
Last month, the B.C. Government put the callout to the public and stakeholders for input that will help shape the future of non-medical cannabis, which is being left up to the provinces and territories to regulate.
An "unprecedented" number of British Columbians filled out the feedback form — over 48,000 in all — on subjects such as minimum age of use, personal possession limits, public consumption, and distribution and retail models.
The province also received over 130 written submissions from local governments, school districts, cannabis-industry representatives, advocacy groups and law enforcement — including the RMOW, in a letter addressed to Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
In what is the most in-depth view into local officials' thoughts on legalization yet, the RMOW appeared to embrace Canada's new legal marijuana landscape while stressing the need to preserve the "Whistler experience."
"Determining if and how cannabis consumption businesses, retail, production and distribution are introduced in the resort community and how cannabis will be used is critical to maintaining the Whistler experience," the letter stated. "Similarly, revenue-sharing mechanisms must be part of any provincial government regulation and taxation program to ensure that Whistler has the resources to continue to provide a world-class resort experience where recreational cannabis is legal for Whistler's residents and visitors."
In terms of minimum age, the RMOW's position is to align with B.C.'s legal drinking age of 19.
"... (M)isaligned age restrictions for alcohol and cannabis will simply cause youth to obtain cannabis from the illicit market," reads the letter.
Similarly, local officials believe personal possession limits should be left to the federal or provincial government to decide and recommended they be identical to federal rules, as stricter limits "are likely to be difficult to enforce, may be confusing for people visiting from outside BC and are less likely to be as effective at mitigating harms of use as other tools."
The RMOW supports using existing provincial regulations prohibiting tobacco smoking and vaping in certain areas for cannabis use. However, the muni also would like to see "regulations that allow municipalities to designate areas where public consumption is permitted," similar to existing rules in B.C.'s Liquor Control and Licensing Act for bars. However, the muni acknowledged that "a more fulsome understanding" of the impacts of designated consumption areas such as cannabis lounges is required. The muni also supports leaving the licensing of such establishments, should they be legalized, up to the province.
The RMOW has to this point mostly avoided wading too far into the conversation around legalization. In 2014, council approved a bylaw amendment limiting pot production to one Function Junction facility: the Whistler Medical Marijuana Corp., a federally licensed producer of medical cannabis that distributes product by mail.
At the time, the impetus behind limiting production surrounded safety concerns in a community with no dispensaries.
"Until marijuana is legalized there's a safety concern," Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said at the time.
But with legalization looming, the muni appears to be more amenable to cannabis shops in the resort — a welcome surprise to Patrick Smyth, president and CFO of Ross' Gold, a cannabis-licensing brand that was co-founded by Olympic gold medallist snowboarder Ross Rebagliati. (The company also operates a dispensary in Kelowna.)
"I was pleasantly shocked to read (the RMOW's submission)," he said. "We liked everything (in the letter), the minimum age of 19, the distribution model — it really works with what we believe in."
Smyth's only fears surround two issues: a worry that legal pot will be overtaxed, something the RMOW warned against as well for fear of pushing consumers into the black market; and the challenge of enforcing the public consumption of edible cannabis products.
"I don't know how you're going to enforce public consumption of edibles, for instance, and I think that needs to be given some thought," said Smyth.
But, by and large, Smyth was satisfied with the municipality's position. "I'm very happy to see the RMOW go this route and be so open and adoptive of what we certainly feel," he added.
To view the RMOW's full submission to the government, which includes further recommendations on drug-impaired driving and personal cannabis cultivation, visit https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/217/2017/11/Resort-Municipality-of-Whistler.pdf.