RMOW takes first steps ahead of marijuana legalization

Public hearing to take place on Jan. 23 at 6 p.m.

As the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) makes its first move to accommodate the upcoming federal legalization of recreational marijuana slated for July, the community is invited to have their say at a public hearing next Tuesday (Jan. 23).

The hearing, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre, will deal with a zoning amendment bylaw currently before council regarding cannabis retail, production and distribution within the resort.

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While legalization of recreational marijuana may be a big jump for Canadian governments, the bylaw, given its first two readings at a Jan. 9 council meeting, aims to take things slow. The bylaw strives to maintain the current state of affairs when it comes to pot in the resort — that is, continuing to limit production and distribution to solely the Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation’s Function Junction location, and continuing the existing prohibition on cannabis retail.

The need for an update to the current zoning bylaw arose from the new federal Cannabis Act and murky details about what legalization will look like in B.C., explained Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

“The changes in regulation from the federal government and the provincial government are coming out almost on a daily basis, and our existing zoning rules are based on the federal legislation that predated the Cannabis Act,” she said. “So now the Cannabis Act is out, and what we’re doing is simply updating our zoning bylaw to comply with the definitions set out in the Cannabis Act. We’re really taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach.”

However, that means additional amendments and bylaws could likely be coming down the pipe in the near future. “Once we get a better sense of what this might look like, then we can consider amending the zoning bylaw further to allow retail sales, for example, in various places, or not,” Wilhelm-Morden said. “We want to consult with community, see what the community thinks. I don’t know that everyone wants a dispensary every second storefront — or maybe they do; I don’t know.”

The many budding entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the first strain of legalized recreational weed is another factor prompting the municipality to keep current legislative changes to a minimum, before knowing the full scope of both the federal and provincial governments’ plans. Since the middle of fall, RMOW staff said they’ve been receiving around one inquiry per week about opening a cannabis retail location, Wilhelm-Morden added. “That’s another reason why we want to slow this down a bit and figure things out so we make the right decisions and take the right steps.”

But before those decisions can be made, next week’s public hearing will only have to do with the specific zoning amendment bylaw currently at hand. The hearing will begin with a brief presentation from municipal staff about the bylaw update, after which attendees can sign up to voice their opinions.

“I’ll be a little surprised if we get a lot of negative comments about this zoning amendment bylaw,” Wilhelm-Morden said. “It just seems to make so much common sense to me to take our time and figure things out... It will be the next zoning amendment bylaw, when we start zoning areas for the sale of cannabis, that’s when I would expect lots of people to have lots of opinions.”

For those who aren’t able to attend but want to send a response, that can be done through either a letter or an email. In order to be considered, the correspondence must be addressed to mayor and council, and must be submitted before 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 23.  

The hearing will also have an impact on when the bylaw can be passed. If no one speaks against the bylaw, it could receive third reading immediately after the public hearing. If anyone is opposed to the zoning amendment bylaw, that third reading discussion will be pushed two weeks from Jan. 23, Wilhelm-Morden explained.

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