With cannabis decriminalized across Canada as of Wednesday, it begs the question: When will Surrey see its first pot shop?
Likely not for months.
To date, the City of Surrey has not accepted a single paid retail application for a cannabis store.
“There’s simply too many questions that need to be answered to ensure we get this right,” said Surrey’s public safety director Terry Waterhouse.
He added the city has been developing its cannabis framework, which it wants to finalize before accepting store applications.
“Like most municipalities, we’re still working through the framework at various steps, and that still requires more information and input from the province in terms of knowing what the retail aspect will look like,” Waterhouse told the Now-Leader.
“We receive a lot of queries from individuals who are interested in knowing more, but no one can formally apply unless they go through the provincial process first. We hear of individuals who have been successful provincially, but until we confirm our rules, the province won’t be forwarding them. They’re the gatekeeper.”
Waterhouse predicts that over the next several months, the public will see cities “rolling out much more specific details about how retail will happen.”
As of Oct. 15, the province has received 173 paid retail applications, with 11 of those from Surrey and the Fraser Valley.
The province says it has approved 62 of those, but the applications still need local approval from municipalities.
All B.C. residents will be able to purchase marijuana online when the province launches its cannabis website bccannabisstores.com, which is expected to go live Wednesday. And, B.C. will have one lone cannabis storefront, in Kamloops, opening Oct. 17.
But there’s far more that Surrey is considering as it develops its cannabis frameworks than retail storefronts alone, explained Waterhouse.
Business license costs, enforcement, cultivation, and uncertainty around provincial revenue-sharing are a few of the top concerns.
“Personal cultivation will be allowed, so each individual will be allowed to grow four plants, but there’s still questions on enforcement and whose responsibility it is to enforce that if there’s more. That’s another question not yet answered,” said Waterhouse.
“And in a city like ours, where we have urban and agricultural as well, we have ag lands and there are new rules. If certain conditions are met, (growing cannabis) will in some cases be allowed.”
At the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Whistler last month, municipalities overwhelmingly voted in favour of a proposal calling on the B.C. government to give 40 per cent, or $50 million, of the expected $125 million in cannabis excise tax revenue for the first two years after legalization. Any revenue above $125 million would be shared 50/50 and each community, no matter its population, would get at least $10,000.
But the provincial government hasn’t revealed whether it’s going to approve that request.
“So at this point, the only way to cover any of the costs is potentially from a licensing fee and that revenue sharing agreement with the province,” said Waterhouse, “which would help us clarify the financial aspects of legalization. There are simply too many factors that still need to be determined.”
He said another “big question mark” is what the direction of Surrey’s incoming mayor and council will be as it relates to cannabis.
It’s a situation many Lower Mainland municipalities are in, with several incumbent mayors not seeking re-election.
“The Oct. 17 date is in some ways, one of the milestones along the way to legalization,” said Waterhouse. “I think a lot of people are assuming the entire world of cannabis will change in a single day, but it’s much more complicated than that.
“The landscape is becoming clearer, I think, than six months ago. It’ll settle, but there are still outstanding things that need to be determined,” added Waterhouse.
Meantime, the Surrey Board of Trade has raised concern about how cannabis will impact workplaces, and earlier this year released an “Employer Guide.”
“Drug impairment on the job is a complex challenge for employers at the best of times,” said SBOT CEO Anita Huberman.
“With the pending legalization by the Federal government of recreational cannabis usage, employers will need to review what they know and what they need to know to be prepared.”
Where can you smoke pot as of Oct. 17?
In early October, the provincial government released updated details about where smoking pot will be prohibited.
Consuming of cannabis (via smoking or vaping) will be generally allowed where tobacco and vaping is permitted. It will be banned in indoor public places, except in a designated room at assisted living or retirement facilities or hospitals; or in a hotel room by registered guests (but hotels may choose to prohibit).
No pot smoking or vaping will be allowed within six metres of doorways, windows, air intakes of public public buildings, bus stops of bus shelter. It will also be banned on public patios, and on any sidewalks/boulevards adjacent to schools properties.
Parks will also, generally, be off limits.
No smoking or vaping of cannabis will be allowed in regional and municipal parks, except for designated campsites. Same goes for provincial parks, except for in “designated smoking areas,” or as authorized by a park officer.
Smoking up on boats will also be against the law, except when in an enclosed cabin on a commercially operated boat, but the operator may choose not to allow it.
On personal boats, smoking will be allowed if it has sleeping accommodations, kitchen facilities and a toilet (when moored or anchored).
And naturally, no smoking of cannabis will be allowed in vehicles, except in motor homes or other motor vehicles or campers or trailers when parked off a public road or forest service road where camping is allowed, and when being used as a private residence.
What about tickets? Those found in violation of these rules will face fines consistent to existing liquor and tobacco tickets. Smoking cannabis in a prohibited place will mean a $230 fine, and for vaping, it will drop to $58.
Meantime, a maximum possession limit of 1,000 grams of dried cannabis, or equivalent, has been set for “non-public places,” like at home.
Anyone 19 or older will be allowed to possess 30 grams of cannabis in public places.
As for driving when high, B.C. has increased law enforcement training and has “toughened” provincial regulations to give police more tools to remove impaired drivers from the roads, and deter drug-affected driving.
Statistics Canada released figures in August that suggest one in seven Canadians admits to getting behind the wheel high.
A new 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibition has been implemented for any driver whom police reasonably believe operated a motor vehicle while affected by a drug or by a combination of a drug and alcohol, based on analysis of a bodily substance or an evaluation by a specially trained police drug recognition expert. New drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program will be subject to a zero-tolerance restriction for the presence of THC.
The federal government has approved a saliva test (Dräger DrugTest® 5000) police can use if they suspect a driver is high on drugs, but Surrey RCMP have not yet decided if they will utilize it.
“The RCMP has not made any decisions with respect to saliva roadside screening device.” said Sergeant Janelle Shoihet of the RCMP’s E-Division. “Once decisions are made, the RCMP will have a strategic, limited, rollout of approved drug screening equipment that will be deployed in consultation with our provincial and municipal partners.”
Shoihet added that “public education campaigns have already launched and will continue at a local, provincial and national level. We will continue to work closely with our partners to support these campaigns as we have in the past (ie. Impaired driving, seatbelts, pedestrian safety etc.).”