By ROY WOOD
Osoyoos will allow retail sale of recreational marijuana within its boundaries, but only in private outlets, not provincial government cannabis stores.
That was one decision to emerge from a lengthy discussion at Tuesday’s regular council meeting. Many other aspects of the looming legalization of pot sales and possession were discussed but ultimately sent back to town staff for more study and further recommendations.
Councillors CJ Rhodes and Mike Campol continue to be the most interested and vocal members of council on the issue, leading the discussion and taking turns trashing the senior levels of government for “downloading” so much of the spade work around marijuana sales to local governments.
Some hints were discernable Tuesday around where council will eventually come down on things like buffer zones around schools and parks, zoning and business licensing.
On the issue of whether private and/or government stores will be allowed in the town, Campol said marijuana sales will provide a significant local business opportunity and “we should be looking at private only. … (I’m) not keen on seeing the provincial government come in and open businesses in our town.” The other members of council agreed, unanimously passing his resolution.
Everyone on council also seemed in agreement that pot outlets need to be some specified minimum distance from schools.
As an example, Vancouver earlier decided that 300 metres would be an appropriate buffer between schools and cannabis outlets. However, a map from planning director Gina MacKay showed that such a buffer in Osoyoos would make a sizable chunk of the downtown commercial zone ineligible.
She will bring back more detailed overlays of buffer zones of 150, 200 and 250 feet on the town zoning map.
The notion that there be a buffer between cannabis stores and public parks are viewed by some as inappropriate.
Campol pointed out that there are liquor stores “within spitting distance” of public beaches and questioned why cannabis should be treated differently. Rhodes agreed, suggesting that convenience is an important consideration in the discussion.
Chief administrative officer Barry Romanko joined the debate, making the case that proximity of sales to parks could lead to consumption in the parks.
The issue of whether pot outlets would require “site-specific” zoning for each application or to simply amend existing bylaws to allow cannabis in some zones presents a knotty problem.
Site-specific zoning gives council more direct control of the process, but has the downside of requiring public hearings for each proposal. This could “create issues and divisions” in the community, suggested Campol. Staff will provide a report on the pros and cons of site-specific zoning.
It became clear during the discussions that setting up a cannabis outlet in Osoyoos won’t be cheap. The costs of business licences and zoning application processing fees are likely to be substantial.
Part of the reason is that the province still hasn’t responded to requests from municipalities that they be provided a substantial share of the tax windfall the pot sales will create. The town foresees considerable costs, particularly around bylaw enforcement.
Staff will return to council with at least some further information at the July 16 meeting.
Recreational weed becomes legal in Canada on October 17.