Canada: As legalization looms, more Metro Vancouver cities outlaw dispensaries and cannabis production

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Some Metro Vancouver cities are digging in their heels against the sale and production of cannabis ahead of looming federal legalization of the drug.

While Vancouver has chosen to license dispensaries, most municipalities in the Lower Mainland are banning them until the province decides how to regulate sales.

Marijuana will be legal in Canada as of July 1, but it will be up to the provinces to decide how the product is distributed.

On Tuesday, Delta held a public hearing on a sweeping bylaw change that includes, among many other items, the prohibition of cannabis dispensaries. White Rock held a public hearing on Monday to ban dispensaries within city limits. 

"Well, it's illegal," said White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin. "That's a good reason."


Dispensary Releaf says some of its members can't travel to cities like Vancouver to access medical marijuana.

Baldwin said councillors in his city aren't disputing the medicinal value of cannabis, they're merely following federal laws.

He points out that cities in B.C. that do allow dispensaries tend to have their own police force — including Vancouver, Victoria and Nelson. Others, like White Rock, are policed by RCMP, which enforce federal laws. 

The cities of Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey all said they don't allow dispensaries to operate. They say they're waiting for provincial regulations to come into play to see how they will be able to navigate within those rules.

'It's going to be interesting times'

Baldwin said White Rock may try to ban dispensaries even after marijuana is legalized. The city will hold more hearings and public consultations to gauge residents' response. 

"It's going to be interesting times," he said. 

One group that opposed White Rock's ban was Releaf, a compassion centre that provides education and distributes medical marijuana.

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ALR rules allow federally licensed marijuana growers to produce pot on agricultural land. 

The business used to operate in White Rock before it was destroyed in a fire in 2015.

"To create a bylaw about dispensaries that encompasses both medical and recreational marijuana is a disservice to the community," said Tara Cain, Releaf's executive director.

Cain said White Rock's older demographic means residents aren't always able to travel to places like Vancouver to access medical marijuana. 

Grow-op 'gold rush'

Another issue that some municipalities have to deal with is cannabis production, especially those with more rural areas. 

In Delta, the city is looking to keep current rules that forbid growing cannabis except on farms governed by the Agricultural Land Reserve, over which the city doesn't have much jurisdiction.The ALR, which was established to protect food security, currently does allow federally licensed medical cannabis as an agricultural crop. But the province said a committee is currently reviewing the regulations and will provide recommendations "soon." 

Meanwhile, a new group named Citizens Protecting Agricultural Land has started a campaign called Stop Now that aims to "tackle what many believe is a looming 'gold rush' of marijuana grow-ops on B.C.'s prime farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve." 

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