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Floodgates could open on rural pot shops, councillor warns

John Boivin Local Journalism Initiative
By John Boivin Local Journalism Initiative
November 21st, 2016

Nelson’s debate over cannabis dispensaries spilled over into the monthly Regional District of Central Kootenay meeting last Thursday, when a director raised concerns that pot shops could soon spring up in the regional district.

Area G Director Hans Cunningham noted the City had recently tried to pass zoning amendments to control- and theoretically close- pot dispensaries in its boundaries. He wondered if that could just send those operations into the surrounding rural areas.

“Can they do this? What are our legal choices?,” he asked the board. “Or do we sit back and wait until the federal rules come down?”

“There’s a whole pile of questions we will be facing.”

Cunningham wanted to know if the regional district could face the same legal quandry that Nelson has found itself in. Council backed off its zoning bylaw last week under public pressure. The bylaw remains in limbo, waiting final assent.

While Cunningham said the Nelson debate raised a lot of questions for the regional district, RDCK Chief Administrative Officer Stuart Horn said it’s pretty straightforward.

“Right now they’re illegal, federally. Our zoning regulations say all business has to abide by federal and provincial regulations,” he told the Board.

But Horn told reporters afterwards the situation was more complex than that, and it’s possible a medical marijuana dispensary could open up in rural areas. Those would have federal approval but the municipality would have no tools to regulate their locations or operations.

 If that happens, that would “set off discussion at this table and that’s something politicians will have to deal with”, he said.

Area G’s Cunningham says a ‘wait and see’ approach, however, may cause the regional district problems in the near future. He says there are dispensaries in rural areas now- operating as home-based businesses.

“That may sound funny, but under our bylaws agricultural practices are legal in home-based business. No one has opened up a storefront dispensary, but I think it is only a matter of time before we see them.

“I know probably five or six people who would really like to do what’s happening in Nelson right now,  so they’re ready when the gates open,” he says. As the RDCK doesn’t even issue business licences, he says it’s gambling new rules come in place before it becomes a problem.

As for people wanting to start dispensaries, Cunningham says he “told them good luck, talk to the RCMP, talk to the powers-that-be.”

Other directors said legal grow operations are opening up in their regions- with mixed results.

Larry Binks said a new facility in Creston is federally licenced, and built in an area zoned light industrial. Security wasn’t an issue with razor wire and 400 cameras surrounding the facility.

“I have no concerns about it, they’re doing it properly, they’re following the direction Health Canada gave them, they’re going through the permitting process, they’re going through the security process, they’re going through it the way they’re supposed to go through.

“It’s all about planning, about permitting, once that’s done why would we have a shovel in it?”

On the other end of Kootenay lake, however, Area D director Aimee Watson she’s been getting calls and complaints about a grow operation in her area that, while it apparently has federal permits to operate, has caused a lot of concerns about safety and security in the surrounding community.

Despite getting calls and complaints about the operation, there’s nothing much she can do.

“I can’t even tell you what permits they are, because Health Canada won’t provide them to me,” she says.

“Their report back to me was, ‘we’re not enforcing anything until the federal government redoes the regulations,” she says. “The RCMP are at a loss because they don’t necessarily have any regulations to enforce.”

She says the only tool she has to work with is the RDCK’s building department, and she’s working from that end to address the problem if they can. But she says this is a growing public safety issue and “no one knows what to do about it.”

Watson said the federal government should be enforcing and inspecting the permits they have issued, and should be giving clear direction to rural RCMP detachments on how to deal with complaints about permitted operations.

“At this point it is a grey area and they can’t respond, and it leaves the public in an unsafe situation,” she says. “It’s that gap that concerns me.”

The RDCK board will revisit the issue at a future meeting.

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