Recreational marijuana sales become legal across Canada in October. Black Press files

Residents of B.C. ‘bible belt’ city say pot stores should be legal

New rules allowing marijuana outlets may not be ready by time pot is legalized on Oct. 17

With marijuana legalization less than two months away, it is unclear whether Abbotsford residents will be able to buy non-medical pot locally on Oct. 17. But they want the option to do so.

B.C. municipalities retain the ability to ban pot stores come October, but residents of Abbotsford – often referred to as part of B.C.’s bible belt – don’t think their city should do so, council heard Monday.

City staff is now working to bring council options on how to regulate such stores, but it is unclear whether new rules will be in place by the time marijuana is officially legalized in mid-October.

Abbotsford council could also choose to retain the status quo, although no member has indicated a desire to do so.

With the city’s existing zoning bylaw prohibiting businesses that sell cannabis, locals who wish to buy non-medical pot could be forced to head out of town. But they may not have to go far: next week, Chilliwack council is set to consider rules that will create a new zone for pot stores.

RELATED: Chilliwack to create new zone for marijuana stores

On Monday, council heard that most Abbotsford residents think cannabis outlets should be allowed, albeit with certain restrictions.

Of around 4,600 responses by Abbotsford residents to an online survey, only 26 per cent said the city shouldn’t allow cannabis stores. The remainder were fine with the idea, with most OK with both public and privately operated stores.

Pot sellers shouldn’t be allowed near schools or daycares, and the consumption of cannabis should be limited like tobacco, respondents said. But on other questions, locals signaled they generally welcomed cannabis legalization.

Most said the city should neither limit the number of cannabis stores allowed to do business in Abbotsford nor their hours of operation.

And a slim majority of respondents were OK with the city allowing marijuana plants to be grown in homes, although even more favoured growing in sheds, garages and greenhouses.

Mold, the accessibility of plants, and odour were all concerns related to home-growing, with those issues problematic to just under half of respondents.

Survey respondents said the city’s rules for consumption of cannabis should mimic the province’s rules for tobacco consumption. That would ban pot smoking from public areas like parks.

Outdoor concerts or festivals were the one public area where respondents felt it acceptable for people to partake in cannabis – although most said pot use should be confined to a designated area during such events. The survey did not distinguish the smoking of marijuana with other means like the use of edibles.

Council has asked staff to return with concrete options on how to proceed. But they won’t see those options until mid-September at the earliest, with no council meetings before then due to the upcoming Labour Day holiday and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference the following week.

Although council meets Sept. 17 and 24, another three-week gap follows before the Oct. 15 meeting. Two days later, marijuana is legalized, and on Oct. 20, voters head to the polls to elect a new council.

A city spokesperson said the timing of new rules will depend on the specific options chosen by council.

• • • • •

Marijuana legalization isn’t likely to affect the problematic status of the many medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Abbotsford.

The city’s look at its cannabis rules has thus far focused solely on non-medical marijuana. Council was told Monday that the coming legalization will not alter the fact that federal rules only permit medical marijuana distribution through the mail.

It’s unclear whether any of the unlicensed medical distributors will rebrand as non-medical operators if the city’s rules permit such businesses. Doctors have also called on the government to do away with its medical marijuana system once all pot is legalized, although some users have pushed back against the idea.

In Abbotsford, the city has continued to fine operators to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

Stores operating in the city as of mid-July had racked up $368,250 in fines since the start of 2015, according to figures obtained by The News through a freedom of information request. Of that total, more than $60,000 had been paid.

Those figures do not include fines against stores that had shut down over the last three years.


@ty_olsen
tolsen@abbynews.com

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Survey results:

Should non-medical pot be sold in Abbotsford?

73% Yes

26% No

(1% blank)

Should the city limit the number of pot stores?

48% No

34% Yes

(18% blank)

Should pot stores be restricted near schools?

62% Yes

23% No

Should hours be restricted?

45% No

41% Yes

14% Blank)

Should rules regarding consumption of cannabis in public be:

62% The same as provincial rules

27% more restrictive than provincial rules

Is it acceptable for people to consume cannabis at a concert?

56% Yes

34% No

At a restaurant or bar patio?

69% No

22% Yes

In a park

51% No

39% Yes

Where should pot be allowed to be grown?

54% At home

64% Shed

73% Greenhouse

60% Garage

What are your concerns about home-growing

47% Odour

39% Crime

49% Accessibility of plants for minors

47% Mold

Do you support or oppose legalization for non-medical use?

69% Support somewhat or strongly

29% Oppose somewhat or strongly

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