The City of Vernon, said Coun. Dalvir Nahal to the overflow crowd of more than 70 people who crammed into Vernon council chambers Monday, has a responsibility to taxpayers, business owners and children to make sure what the city is doing in regards to marijuana dispensaries is being done.
The city held a public hearing Monday on a zoning text amendment bylaw that is not intended to close down dispensaries that were in operation before Nov. 14, 2017. The bylaw is to bridge the process that will allow dispensaries to continue to operate provided certain conditions are met.
The city would use a restrictive covenant on properties and temporary use permits until provincial and local zoning regulations are established.
Nahal, who suffers from Stage 4 bone cancer, and who admitted to using medical marijuana candies to ease her pain, said Vernon has “way too many (marijuana) shops and nobody is regulating it.”
“I wonder how many there are that are in it for medicinal purposes,” said Nahal. “We still have a responsibility to taxpayers and to children of not getting their hands on something they shouldn’t be consuming. We’re trying to create a bylaw to stop more shops from setting up until we hear from the federal and provincial governments.”
Legislation making cannabis legal is anticipated to be given the go-ahead by Ottawa on July 1, though Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund pointed out that date hasn’t been confirmed.
Close to 20 people took to the microphone during the 90-minute public hearing, including Selena Wong and Stephen Symons of Vernon-based The Flower of Life Integrative Health company in Vernon. Wong, speaking, she said, on behalf of medical patients and those in the industry who care about those patients, said dispensaries exist because Health Canada has failed to provide a service to those patients, and some dispensaries, like hers, are able to provide products Health Canada can’t produce, which is why her business has survived in Vernon.
“I want council to consider the quality standards and practices of the dispensaries currently operating in this town,” said Wong. “Every dispensary has their own rules and regulations, and they’re the ones in charge of determining what standards and quality of practices there will be in these types of outlets.”
Added Symons: “I understand the rationale, scope and scale and the supplement you submitted to state the municipality’s position. I propose the city put together more dialogue between the city and its citizenry. I can’t really comment because the (restrictive) covenant hasn’t come forward, but the concept of limiting the scope and scale is something I encourage.”
Kevin Adams of Vernon’s Monashee Mountain Medicine, in operation since May 2016, sits on the board of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, and owns four dispensaries throughout the Okanagan. He called Vernon council “brave” for its bylaw proposal, but also said the city has some issues.
“You’re going to have to listen to your legal counsel but hopefully it doesn’t turn into that,” said Adams. “I’m willing to meet with you, to have you come into my store. I would personally like to give you a tour and talk to you about any product. Use me as a resource. You need to zone us, and I understand that and do like that. I praise you for what you’re doing, but as you move forward please watch and take a look at what you do have in your city.”
Downtown Vernon Association executive director Susan Lehman said from an economic standpoint in relation to the number of buyers and vendors in the city, the market, she said, will correct itself.
“We do have quality retailers and suppliers in town, and we have some of lesser quality,” said Lehman. “We have to rely on ourselves as retailers in that market that we will choose quality. We’re going to have quality over quantity. We have to give time for the market to adjust. I agree and the DVA agrees with what the city is doing here tonight.”
Coun. Catherine Lord said the city needs something in place to cover the period of time when regulations finally come out and municipalities see what can and can’t be done when its comes to marijuana.
“It’s good to listen to the viewpoints,” said Lord. “Most of us are particularly concerned with the medicinal aspect.”
Coun. Scott Anderson said marijuana legalization is a “huge topic,” but the specific Vernon bylaw will bridge the gap between now and the anticipated legalization date of July 1.
“After that, we’ll come up with set of bylaws that move this forward,” said Anderson. “no bylaw will solve everything. This bridge bylaw is one that satisfies as many people as possible.”
Council unanimously passed third reading of the bylaw amendment. Adoption is expected in about a month.