Smithers ‘way ahead’ on preparing for pot

Public consultation around town on pot use, dispensing and licensing this summer.

Smithers’ Town council began discussion on local legislative strategy in preparation for the legalization of cannabis on Oct. 17 of this year.

Chief administrative officer Anne Yanciw presented her report at a council meeting on July 10.

“The focus of [provincial] legislation is quite different from local government, so that still leaves quite a number of areas that will be the responsibility of local government,” Yanciw said.

“The unique challenge to this particular topic is that we don’t have legislation from other local governments to copy or to adapt, and even when other local governments create their legislation now it’s not been tested or proven … We’re sort of on uncharted territory here.

“The whole focus of this [discussion] is not about legalization; cannabis will be a legal product on Oct. 17, so we’re not disputing that. It’s simply about helping the local government understand the use of this product in our community, and how we incorporate the community perspective into the decision-making process. A large part of the intent is to see some of that community opinion to help inform council’s decisions around cannabis.”

Yanciw said Smithers is “way ahead of [other] municipalities.”

“It’s going to catch some municipalities unawares, and I suspect we will be viewed as the community they might be looking to borrow legislation from rather than us being able to take advantage of that from others.”

“In terms of outreach for community consultation, taking advantage of the networks of the council is probably a great idea,” said Councillor Gladys Atrill.

“I just think this is the time to really make sure we’re hearing first-hand the concerns of the citizens.”

Yanciw said public consultations will take place during the summer.

“We do want to have that wrapped up by the end of [August]. The three components I see as critical to have in place by Oct. 17 would be public usage, dispensing … and finally, the business licensing component.”

Councillor Phil Brienesse put emphasis on the regulation of public consumption.

“We have some sort of suggested areas that the consumption of tobacco products is not permitted … it’s not actually a bylaw, it’s just a totally discouraged sort of thing. I think it would be great if … we basically look at any of these airborne things of vaping, cigarette smoking, and marijuana smoking all as the same sort of thing. You’re releasing something into the atmosphere that other people need to breathe, and whether or not it’s legal for you to consume those things is irrelevant, because you’re forcing other people to consume them. That’s kind of what the issue was with tobacco smoke,” he said.

Councillor Frank Wray agreed on the importance of outlining regulations of public usage, but suggested zoning and business licensing bylaws be put on hold.

“If the public wants us to have dispensaries open, then the public wants us to have dispensaries open. But I think the public needs to know that there are risks in being the first ones to rush the legislation out the door,” said Wray.

“Without a council motion setting a specific direction, at this point, I think we’re probably going to let the consultation process play out, and hopefully get involved in that so we can get a sense of the public flavour around this,” concluded Mayor Taylor Bachrach.

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