There won’t be any bad bud — er, blood — between city hall and dispensaries that operated illegally in the city when cannabis becomes legal in the fall.
After months of public engagement, city staff brought forward a framework for municipal regulation of cannabis within Penticton, including the number of stores to be allowed in the city, hours of operation and where they may operate. The framework will not be finalized likely until October, staff said, with more consultation to be done, including with the business community.
It also included how licensing would work in city hall, particularly as staff prepare to deal with an influx of applications when cannabis becomes legal in October.
Come Oct. 17, when cannabis is legalized, the city will engage in an initial intake of dispensaries until Nov. 14, but won’t begin processing the applications until the end of that period. Applications, to be managed through an online portal, will be graded on four criteria: appropriateness of location, the appearance of the store, strength of business plan and fit with the community.
City planner Blake Laven said there won’t be any penalties — or preference — for applications by dispensaries that have operated in the city despite a lack of a permit.
That issue resulted in a lengthy legal battle with one and numerous fines and RCMP warnings against other dispensaries.
“They’ve been in the community; I think there’s a level of comfort that will form part of their application to the city,” Laven said. “I think we’ll be scoring them the same way that we will score any other business that comes forward.”
In the proposed framework, stores would be allowed mostly to be located in the main commercial areas downtown area, along Main Street and Skaha Lake Road and in the northwest end of the city.
Staff also proposed the creation of exclusion zones, barring stores from being within 300 metres of another store downtown or a school, or within 750 metres of another store outside downtown.
That comes despite only tepid public support for limiting density of cannabis retailers, with 51 per cent supporting a 200-metre buffer between stores and 40 per cent in favour of letting the market decide. However, a buffer zone around schools was among the most supported issues, at 86 per cent .
Stores would also be barred from the 100 to 300 blocks of Main Street and Front Street.
It still isn’t clear, however, whether the buffer zones would be guidelines or “hard-and-fast bylaws” that would require council amendments, Laven said.
With 64 per cent support for limiting the hours of cannabis dispensaries, most commonly supporting a 9 p.m. close time, the city proposed limiting hours between 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Some of the regulations did get some pushback from councillors. Couns. Campbell Watt and Helena Konanz, the latter of whom has placed a bid for the federal Conservative Party nomination for the local riding on a small business-friendly platform, both pushed a more market-based approached.
“These are just to start with. I think we were trying to think of a way to sort of limit the number in the community so we can get a sense of the effect that they’re going to have in the community. But certainly, as time goes by, maybe the (regulations) disappear, maybe we get a comfort level with these types of businesses,” Laven said.
“Maybe it doesn’t have to be as restrictive as we’ve put together today, and maybe we’ll hear that from the business community.”
Konanz also questioned Laven on the city’s ability to enforce the regulations, noting the city’s battles with the dispensaries over the past couple of years.
“We haven’t had a lot of success so far in this area,” Konanz said. “If the store decides to stay open until 11 (p.m.) or 12 (a.m.), then our bylaw officers can come in and give them a ticket. But isn’t that what we’re kind of doing right now with some of the stores, and it just isn’t working.”
Laven said the province will have an enforcement branch that would enforce issues with its own regulations and added the city may be bolstered in its own enforcement come legalization.
“I think the reason why we’ve had the environment we’ve had for the last few years is because these laws weren’t in place,” Laven said, adding it has been “more black and white.”
“I think once we have our local bylaws in place, it’s going to be clear who’s on the right side and who’s on the wrong side of the issue, so it will be a lot easier to take enforcement action against the ones that are on the wrong side.”