At least one Vancouver suburb wants to explore outlawing retail sales of cannabis within its city limits, even after the drug is legalized next year.
Richmond city council's opposition to recreational cannabis underscores the balance British Columbia is trying to achieve with its coming rules as it assures communities there will not be a provincewide, one-size-fits-all approach to selling legal sales of the substance. The NDP government has established a 19-member committee of municipal politicians and bureaucrats to discuss a host of controversial issues surrounding legalization with the province, but Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said on Tuesday his community is opposed to the sale and use of recreational cannabis. Richmond will await the new provincial rules – expected next spring – before exploring its options, he said.
"We believe, reflecting on community values here in the city of Richmond, there's a considerable number of people who would support an outright ban," said Mr. Brodie, whose council voted unanimously on Monday to send letters to British Columbia and the federal government signalling its opposition to legalization.
So far, British Columbia is the lone province to state that it would embrace a cannabis retail system involving a mix of different models once the drug is legalized next summer. The provincial government has said Vancouver's system of independent cannabis shops – implemented under a bylaw passed two years ago – will not work for every community. But it is unclear whether cities such as Richmond would be allowed to go "dry" and outlaw the sale of cannabis within their boundaries.
Mike Farnworth, B.C.'s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said it is too early in the consultation process to determine whether individual communities will be allowed to ban retail sales of the drug.
"I could quite easily see a [provincial] model where some communities may well have dispensaries and other communities don't or you could well have government liquor stores, private liquor stores or other variations of retail operations could exist," he told The Globe and Mail on Oct. 20. "What we want is to put in place a regime that makes people go, 'Okay, this makes sense, it works.'"
Mr. Farnworth, whose Metro Vancouver riding of Port Coquitlam shut down its cannabis shops soon after opening, said that an online public survey, which closes Nov. 1, had drawn 40,000 submissions by Oct. 20. He said the province is working to pass legislation in the spring session of the legislature in order to meet Ottawa's deadline of next summer.
The federal government has stated that in areas without storefront sales, people will be able to buy cannabis online from licensed producers and have the products shipped to their homes. A spokesperson for Health Canada said the province and municipalities have the right to make their own decisions, as long as they follow the federal rules.
"They can literally do whatever they want. We install the rules and regulations for federal and then they get to make their own jurisdiction based on our federal rules for their province, for their municipality," Sindy Souffront said in an interview. "Only they will know what fits for their city, for the province of B.C."
Ontario became the first province to issue its plan, last month announcing the province would launch a monopoly of cannabis stores as a subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario – 40 next year and 150 by 2020 – in a move that would effectively end private dispensaries. Alberta has said cannabis there will be sold in standalone stores, but has not yet decided whether these retailers will be public or private.
Although British Columbia has long been the centre of Canada's illegal cannabis industry, it has been the slowest of the provinces and territories to begin crafting its new rules, in part due to the May election and subsequent hung parliament.
Last Friday, a provincial-municipal cannabis committee met for the first time and it plans to continue to meet every two weeks for the near future to discuss issues such as where the drug will be sold and who should should regulate the licenses for this new brand of business.
While many of Vancouver's conservative suburbs have successfully stamped out illegal dispensaries, the city's long history with the drug made it easier for it to regulate the exploding number of independent shops, according to councillor Kerry Jang, co-chair of the provincial-municipal cannabis committee.
"You've got a place like Richmond that has a huge Chinese population – which is very anti-drug, period – I'd be surprised to see [a store selling legal cannabis] in Richmond," said Mr. Jang, who pushed to create Vancouver's landmark cannabis-shop regulations. "That's got nothing to do with cost or legislation – it's just the community saying, 'We want nothing to do with it."
An online petition asking Ottawa to postpone or suspend the legalization of the drug has garnered more than 4,600 signatures in less than two weeks, according to the Richmond group behind the drive. The 2018 July Marijuana Legalization Concern Group, led by Richmond city councillor Chak Au, states that legalization could mislead young Canadians into thinking that smoking marijuana is harmless and added that law enforcement are not ready for the rollout date of next July.
In the 2015 federal election, the Conservative Party posted an ad in Metro Vancouver's Chinese-language newspapers, questioning Chinese voters whether they agree with the Liberal Party's position on legalizing cannabis.
"Do you have the common values with Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party? The Liberal Party wants to legalize marijuana, which will make it more accessible for children," The ad stated.
Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido, who represents the Steveston-Richmond riding, said he agrees with the mayor and council's opposition to the sale of cannabis in the city.
"Richmond is a small conservative place. It's a suburb. Our way of doing things is different than in Burnaby and Vancouver."