When Canadians wake up on Oct. 17, recreational cannabis will be legal.
But there are still many question marks about how legalization – and regulation – will roll out.
Surrey, for instance, likely won’t see any pot shops open their doors 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.
A “big question mark” is what the direction of Surrey’s incoming mayor and council will be as it relates to cannabis, said Waterhouse.
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.
The Now-Leader asked Surrey’s mayoral hopefuls where they stand on recreational cannabis legalization.
Incumbent councillor and mayoral candidate Bruce Hayne said he’s in favour of legalization and outlined his expectations for retail and production facilities.
“On a retail level we would want to see similar engagement that private liquor stores and liquor-primary establishments have with the community in terms of good neighbour agreements,” he said.
“Given that studies show many retail customers want to consume very shortly after purchase, unlike liquor, we would work with retailers to discourage public consumption within close proximity to retail locations.
“As for production facilities, we will look closely at zoning bylaws to reduce residential/facility conflicts. Location, odour and security will be paramount considerations.”
Hayne said he would take a “go-slow” approach to retail stores.
“One or two stores in each town centre in Surrey over the first 24 months will help to ensure we do not see what Vancouver has seen over the past few years with stores on almost every corner.”
Hayne said his biggest concern is the downloading of responsibilities and costs associated with legalization.
“It is relatively simple to ensure retailers follow regulations such as proximity rules to schools, and each other, etc. However, policing costs, public safety on our roads and ensuring illegal product is kept out of the supply chain are costly issues from a regulatory and governance perspective,” he noted.
When it comes to revenue tax-sharing, Hayne hopes to see the province cover, at the very least, the cost municipalities will bear, such as policing costs such as impaired driving and public consumption.
“A good place to start would be 50-50,” he said.
Incumbent councillor and Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill didn’t say whether he’s opposed or in favour of legalization, but that this is now “the law of the land” and “now, we have to make sure it works for our community and our residents.”
“Surrey residents are my priority,” said Gill, “and for me that means limiting sales to government-retail outlets where staff are already trained to deal with age-related products.”
Gill said his biggest concern is where the revenue is going to end up.
“The policing, regulation and social impacts will all be local, so I want to make sure that Surrey gets the money it needs to deal with these things. When you look at California or Washington or Colorado, states where it is already legal, this is a very big business, and we’ll need to ensure cities have the resources they need to look after all the issues that come with legalization.”
Mayoral candidate Doug McCallum of Safe Surrey Coalition says he is against cannabis stores and product operations in Surrey “until we get crime under control.”
He said he also fully expects any and all different types of applications to follow the new Public Engagement Processes that will be developed via a Mayor’s Standing Committee.
“My biggest concern is that (legalization) puts another layer of uncertainty on our city when our residents already feel unsafe,” he said.
“I don’t think we should be discussing potential benefits until the risks are known. This should not be about money.”
Imtiaz Popat, running for mayor with the two-person slate Progressive Sustainable Surrey, said to him “it makes sense that cannabis products should be sold in pharmacies.”
Popat said better “awareness education would rally be help benefit the citizens about the pros and cons of cannabis use.” When it comes to tax-sharing with the province, Popat called for some revenues to go toward “counselling, as well as a public education campaign.” Fundamentally, Popat said he’s in favour of decriminalization.
“The citizens will benefit for getting safe access to cannabis with better understanding and more support from pharmacist, nurses and other heath professional,” he said.
Asked about retail and production facilities, independent mayoral candidate John Wolanski said there “needs to be a minimum standard of security involved” and production facilities should be in industrial zones. He, too, said there should be some sharing of provincial pot revenues with municipalities to offset the costs of policing.
“Use the cannabis revenue to tackle the other drugs that are more lethal,” added Wolanski.
Rajesh Jayaprakash, running for mayor with People First Surrey, said there is a “genuine fear of exploitation of the opportunity and marketing push to make quick profits at the expense of our youth. So our position is that we restrict the cannabis stores to government stores until we do enough community consultation ironing out the details.”
From his perspective, the biggest municipal concern is proximity to schools, neighbourhood issues in terms of home-growing and rental agreement issues related to it.
Asked how much tax revenue Surrey should receive from the province, he said “revenue is not the focus now. It is the impact on youth and market forces trying to profit at the expense of the people.”
Independent mayoral candidate François Nantel said his biggest concern is the indoor growing aspect of the legislation,and smoking in apartment buildings.
Nantel said it’s hard to say what the benefits could be for Surrey “since we have no data in which to extrapolate benefits versus cost.”
“Fundamentally, I am in favour simply because it was already legalized in Vancouver since the laws on the books were not being applied,” said Nantel.
“The war on drugs is a losing battle as much as prohibition was. The feds should investigate more the decriminalization of hard drugs.”
Pauline Greaves, who is running for mayor with the “left-leaning” Proudly Surrey group, calls for city-run cannabis dispensaries.
“Our intention with this policy is to make this legal product available in the safest and most responsible way to the tens of thousands of Surrey residents who partake in cannabis use” said Greaves. ” We want to ensure that all users have access to legal cannabis, and that parents, employers, and health practitioners have the best, most up to date information on its effects and current regulations of cannabis use.”
She added that “all (Surrey) dispensary employees will be trained in the latest facts on the product and its use. To do anything else will be irresponsible.”
If elected Proudly Surrey promises to establish a “special municipal license of marijuana sales, the first eight of which will be issued to city-owned stores situated in each major neighbourhood, staffed by qualified, responsible employees.”
Other commitments include maintaining “low licensing costs for municipal stores and any additional private stores the city may license.”
Greaves said Proudly Surrey maintain low licensing costs “so that a per-transaction or per-gram tax can be levied on each purchase as per the provisions of the license” and that “this municipal tax and all profits derived from city run stores will be transferred directly to the Surrey school board to spend at its discretion. There will be no revenue splitting with the city.”
Proudly Surrey says it has “no current plans to prevent the use of Surrey ALR lands to grow marijuana.”
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 has 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.).”