Local governments waiting on marijuana legislation

Municipal and regional governments wading through legalization uncertainty.

Everyone in all levels of government is trying to figure out what the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana will look like, including the Regional District of East Kootenay.

The issue briefly came up during a monthly meeting of regional directors in Cranbrook, as the regional government body received a letter from the District of West Kelowna asking for support on a fair tax sharing deal.

That issue was already resolved in late December when the provinces and the federal government agreed to a 75/25 per cent tax revenue sharing deal, however, there are still concerns over the downloading of social and policing costs to municipalities.

Wendy Booth, the director for Area F south of Invermere, serves as the president of UBCM, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, an organization that advocates to higher levels of government for issues facing local elected representatives.

Booth says local government officials have been meeting every few weeks since September to explore and prepare for issues that are likely to arise when the feds introduce legalization legislation.

“Basically, the purpose of the group is to go through the framework policy questions of what legalization is going to look like in regard to the impacts to local governments across the province,” said Booth. “So as we go through these policy questions and we work through the process, it actually opens up more questions because it’s a very complex file; we haven’t done this before so [we’re] trying to respect the large and small communities, the urban and rural and how they impact might be different and what the cost might be to manage those.”

It’s an issue that has been brewing for a few years since the federal Liberals made legalization of recreational marijuana part of their election platform in 2015.

Even the sale of medical marijuana has been a contentious issue locally, as Cranbrook city council has repeatedly denied business licenses for dispensaries in the past. However, there is one that operates out of Kimberley — Tamarack Dispensaries, which exemplifies the differences in how municipalities approach and deal with the issue.

While municipalities can use business licenses as a tool to set out requirements for marijuana businesses, it’s a different case in rural areas.

“In the electoral areas, we don’t have the business license tool, however, through our zoning and OCPs [Official Community Plan], we do have the opportunity to zone specific locations for a marijuana shop, if we so choose to do so,” said Booth.

“The challenge that lies, or where there may be a hole there, is in the really rural areas where there is no OCP or no zoning bylaws, and we’re working through that to see what tool could be created or used to address that, so the opportunity and the regulation will apply to all areas.”

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