The province should develop a licensing regime to allow for designated cannabis-consumption lounges when marijuana becomes legal next year, say Victoria councillors.
“We’re seeing a need for it in our community right now, as there are lounges that are operating illegally based on our regulations and current laws,” said Coun. Jeremy Loveday.
The recommendation will be part of a suite of suggestions the city will forward to the province for consideration as it crafts regulations governing the production, sale and use of marijuana, which the federal government plans to make legal by next summer.
Mayor Lisa Helps said the city has received a lot of pushback against its prohibition on cannabis consumption in dispensaries and/or lounges. But the issue is more properly dealt with through provincial regulation, because it is a health issue, not a business- licensing issue, Helps said.
Faced with a glut of illegal cannabis dispensaries, Victoria has been attempting to regulate pot shops — ensuring that the retailers selling cannabis are properly zoned and that they meet special city business-licence requirements covering aspects of operations ranging from signs to ventilation to security.
But city regulations do not allow marijuana consumption on business premises — something marijuana advocates say discriminates against some renters and strata residents who might be prohibited from smoking in their homes.
The city’s recommendations to the province come at the same time the city has been turning to the courts to shut down both commercial lounges that allow marijuana smoking and those retailers that have not applied for business licences or rezoning.
The province has invited input from municipalities on aspects ranging from the minimum age for cannabis possession and consumption to distribution and retailing of pot to drug-impaired-driving laws.
Councillors also recommend that provincial regulations ensure that clean-air bylaws protecting others, including employees, from second-hand smoke also apply to cannabis smoke.
Coun. Geoff Young said it’s important to avoid the “ridiculous situation” that would arise if smoking cannabis were allowed in places where tobacco smoking was not.
“We’d have people marketing cigarettes with a tiny gram of cannabis in them so they could claim that anti-smoking bylaws didn’t apply to them,” Young said. “All of the health benefits we’ve gained by control of smoking would be lost.”
Recommendations to the province will include:
• The minimum age for cannabis possession should be the same age as for the purchase and consumption of liquor (19).
• The province should establish a licensing scheme to allow for designated consumption lounges with a model that takes into consideration the health and well-being of all users and employees.
• Council supports strong restrictions on drug-impaired driving, including zero tolerance for impairment by cannabis in the graduated-licensing program (drivers with “L” or “N” designation) and awareness campaigns expanding roadside testing, suspension and prohibition programs for drug-impaired driving.
• The legalization frameworks should be constructed so as to lower policing-enforcement costs for municipalities.
• With the exception of provincially regulated smoking lounges, local smoking regulations should apply to the smoking of cannabis.
• The province should introduce a distribution model for medical and non-medical cannabis that maintains opportunities for local enterprise, craft enterprise and small business in cultivation, distribution and retail sale.
• The province should develop a retailing regime that makes room for both public and private retail operations, including regulations ensuring that there is a provincial standard for retailers, and that local governments retain their zoning authority for locating both public and private retail outlets.