File photo Medicinal-marijuana advocate David Hutchinson addresses city in 2014.

White Rock cannabis-ban plan sparks opposition

Residents voice criticism over city zoning strategy

Medicinal-marijuana advocates were quick this week to criticize the City of White Rock after council made public a proposal to effectively ban cannabis dispensaries from opening shop in the city, ahead of the federal government impending legalization of the weed.

The city is to host a public hearing Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. on the matter, where residents will be given an official forum to voice their stance on the planned civic legislation.

Medicinal-cannabis advocate David Hutchinson told Peace Arch News he will “absolutely” be attending the public hearing, and said there are two camps when it comes to legalization: medicinal and recreational.

“I guess my question is… when they say dispensaries, are they talking about locations for medical access or are they looking at just adult use?” he asked.

Hutchinson became a public supporter for medicinal cannabis after he saw the difference it made to his late daughter, Beth, during her struggle with brain cancer.

Beth died in 2013 at the age of 20. Four years before that, Hutchinson’s wife Kay succumbed to the same disease.

Hutchinson said the city should be investigating legislation that’s “more inclusive” than an outright ban.

“They should be more educated on this. I don’t know where they get their advice. I’ve spoken to council in the past and offered my support, but they don’t want to listen. They continually just do their own thing,” he said Thursday.

Hutchinson expressed a concern with the city designing bylaws that would “zone dispensaries out of existence.”

“It’s asinine to me when we have so many deaths from alcohol. We have an alcohol store – in fact, ironically owned by one of the councillors – that’s 100 metres away from a school down Johnston (Road),” he said, referring to Sandpiper Liquor Store, located across the street from White Rock Elementary and owned by Coun. Bill Lawrence.

The city’s plan would prohibit cannabis dispensaries from any current land-use zone in the city as an “interim regulatory measure” in anticipation of legalization in July 2018.

However, cannabis dispensaries might not be banned from the city forever, according to a report from city planning and development services director Carl Johannsen, which was received by council Monday and which also detailed bylaw amendments that would provide “very narrow parameters” for “adult entertainment venues.”

Council gave the amendments first and second reading.

White Rock resident Pat Petrala called the proposed cannabis rules “punitive, misguided and narrow-minded.”

“Why refuse a lucrative business that provides a valuable service?” Petrala told PAN.

Petrala, who noted she overcame breast cancer four years ago and also survived lung cancer, said she has personally felt the health impacts of medicinal cannabis, and she criticized council for being “exclusionary.”

“Certainly, I used cannabis when I was having my breast-cancer treatment, I didn’t throw up quite as much,” she said, adding that the cannabinoid capsules also helped her rest, manage pain, bring comfort and reduce anxiety.

Petrala – a past candidate for White Rock council – added that she also used tincture, and oil for scars, but did not ingest cannabis by smoking.

“I’ve witnessed, studied and researched – over the past 15 years, at least – the evolution of medicinal cannabis globally. Why do we have to be a little backwards here? We’re not a backwards, redneck community. Get with the times,” she said.

Petrala said she senses that the ban on pot shops is coming from “a real right-wing mentality, and we don’t want to become an exclusive enclave of only the white and nearly dead.”

Several PAN readers commented online that those looking to buy cannabis will likely cross the municipal border to Surrey to do so.

“White Rock hates businesses so expect it to be shot down and Surrey will get the retail sales,” Logan Black commented.

“Clearly the dispensaries don’t have the deep pockets developers do! If they did we would probably have 11 dispensaries already, another 27 approved and new parking lot to make space on the beach for additional dispensaries in the future!” Mike Freed commented.

The provincial government announced in December that wholesale distribution of recreational pot will be handled by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, but the drug will be sold by both public and private retailers.

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