Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner says the city has developed a “balanced, appropriate and evidence-based approach” in preparing for the expected passing of the Trudeau government’s Bill C45 Cannabis Act this coming July.
“Like all governments, the City of Surrey must determine the changes needed to ensure an effective response to cannabis legalization,” Hepner said.
Surrey’s Cannabis Legalization Report — A Framework for Action includes a review of existing context for federal and provincial regulations on cannabis, lessons learned from the United States experience, an overview of the medical uses and potential risks associated with weed, and “implementation of checklists for zoning and land use, bylaws and regulations, inspection and enforcement, revenue and economic development and education and public engagement.”
Currently, Surrey does not permit dispensaries, like other cities such as Vancouver. “We have not permitted anyone to set up,” said Councillor Mike Starchuk. “We don’t want people to think they’ve got their foot in the door.”
Last year, Starchuk, along with city staff, and delegates from RCMP and Fraser Health, went on a tour of several U.S. cities that have already gone through legalization, including Denver, Seattle and Portland.
“We got to see what the missteps were and I think more importantly, we got to see the financial burden – and I’m going to call it a burden – that it has the potential to place on municipalities,” explained Starchuk.
In many of the cities visited, business license costs were higher than anticipated, so Starchuk said Surrey plans to look at their overall costs before determining that fee.
“We know this industry in other U.S. jurisdictions asked for more scrutiny to ensure the legitimacy of the business. It will add costs to the city with inspections and compliance issues (to do with) fire and bylaws, and possibly enforcement issues for bylaw and RCMP.”
Some cities, he noted, have set up “cannabis bureaus” with staff solely responsible for the stores that sell cannabis or businesses that produce or manufacture.
Meantime, Seattle and Portland saw an increase in policing costs due to a spike in impaired driving, said Starchuk.
“What we saw in Denver was a lot of statistical data that there was increased level of impairment for drivers after the recreational sale of cannabis,” he said. “We know there’s no machine you blow into that provides that data, and blood tests don’t really work in all cases because of the length of time the THC levels of cannabis stay in your system. We know RCMP are going to be faced with determining your level of impairment… There is training that can happen that correlates to their skill level to be able to determine that level of impairment. So how many people will have to be trained like this?”
Starchuk said he’s awaiting more information on the province related to personal cultivation because he heard on the tour that “personal cultivation has the potential to have a different effect on society and hopefully the provincial government will see it the same way.”
Starchuk said there hasn’t been a huge influx of interest, but some growers and retailers are beginning to inquire with city hall. But, he said, “we’ve made it abundantly clear that we are not allowing any businesses to be established in the city until we have everything in place.”
Starchuk also noted that Surrey has a plethora of Agricultural Land Reserve property in Surrey, where growth of cannabis is a permitted use. “We don’t know yet if companies are going to come knocking.”
The pricing model, Starchuk stressed, is going to be key in the success of cannabis legalization.
“The key is to make sure the price scale of the substance is not prohibitive…. When you take a look at Washington State and Oregon as well, the price per gram has dropped by about 30 per cent from its inception.… The lower the price there at government locations, the less likelihood the illegal market is to succeed…. They realized they weren’t winning that battle. The only way to put people out of business once its legalized is to make sure government products weren’t taxed so high that’s its cheaper to get elsewhere.”