Marijuana is still top of mind for Delta, as mayor and council discussed the implications of legalizing the drug at Monday night’s council meeting.
“It’s one thing to be Ottawa and setting down something they want to have happen,” Mayor Lois Jackson said during council on Jan. 8. “The rubber hits the road at the local government level. We are the ones that have to fix it … and make sure people are protected.”
Jackson said she hopes for a “common understanding” between all levels of government, and so far Delta, the province and the federal government are close to the same page on the recreational use of marijuana. (Medical marijuana was not discussed in the reports to council.)
In director of corporate services Sean McGill’s presentation to council, he outlined a number of decisions made by the provincial government as well as Delta’s responses to them.
Delta agrees with the province that the minimum age to possess, purchase and consume cannabis should be 19, the same as alcohol and tobacco, and that distribution should be handled through B.C. Liquor Stores.
However, while the province has said it will establish a retail model that uses both public and private retailers, Delta believes it should simply be public.
“We looked at this very much like alcohol … and [it] should be treated much the same way,” McGill said.
To that end, Delta also asked for all public consumption and underage possession of marijuana to be prohibited.
More details on the province’s approach to sales of cannabis are expected to be announced in early 2018, but Delta is already working to restrict retail sales in the city.
According to Sean McGill, “the new zoning bylaw has zoned out all retail sales” of cannabis. Retailers wanting to sell pot would have to be approved on a case by case basis, similar to what Delta has done for medical marijuana dispensaries — of which there are none in Delta — the production of medical marijuana on industrial land.
The production of marijuana, particularly on agricultural land, remains a key concern for the City of Delta.
Delta has asked for both the provincial and federal governments to prohibit the production of recreational marijuana on agricultural land. In addition, Delta has asked that marijuana production on farmland be taxed at the same rate as production taking place on industrial land.
“We’ve been very consistent on that,” McGill said.
In the past, Delta has attempted to stop pot production on farmland at the local level. In 2014, Delta attempted to change its zoning bylaw to prohibit medical marijuana production in all zones, only allowing facilities to be approved on a case by case basis.
This was denied by the province, which supported the Agricultural Land Commissions’s position that the lawfully sanctioned production of medical marijuana is consistent with its definition of farm use and so cannot be blocked by municipal bylaws. Delta currently has at least one medical marijuana production facility operating on agricultural land.
Another key concern for Delta, and especially the Delta Police Department, is policing post-legalization and the costs associated with that.
Under the federal regulations, security requirements for micro-cultivators (facilities producing small-scale and “boutique” strains of marijuana) are reduced compared to standard cultivators. Delta police do not agree with this decision.
“This was a big issue for Delta police,” McGill said. “They’re just worried about opening the door that little bit to any kind of reduced security for either rip offs or the introduction of organized crime.”
The DPD is hoping for the same security standards in both standard cultivators and micro-cultivators.
In addition, Delta is looking for zero tolerance policies for new drivers and commercial drivers in regards to driving under the influence, with penalties similar to those for alcohol-impaired driving.
Delta police have concerns about the funding for new police training requirements when marijuana becomes legal. The federal government announced in December that the tax split will be 75-25 in favour of the provinces.
“That being said, we don’t know what percentage of the 75 per cent will flow down to municipalities,” McGill said. “We’ve been consistent in asking for our fair share because of the training requirements.”
The presentation and discussion on legal marijuana lasted about half an hour at council, and the two reports on provincial regulations and federal regulations together total nearly 130 pages. However, there is still more to go before marijuana is legalized — a date officially set for July 1, 2018, but that McGill said may be delayed.
“We’ve had many, many sessions where we’ve had everybody together … and it’s taken a long time to get this far,” Jackson said.
“We’re not quite finished because there are still components we haven’t even begun to talk about yet.”