White Rock’s most recent appeal for public input on potential changes to its zoning bylaw – including one specific focus on marijuana – ended on May 21, and online and hard-copy survey responses are still to be tabulated by city officials.
Open houses held May 7, 8 and 12 at the city’s community centre were sparsely attended, with only an average of a dozen people present at any one time, including city staff and councillors.
That didn’t negate the exercise, however, city planning technician Jamie Pritchard said at the May 8 open house.
“It’s like the first step in a community dialogue,” he said. “Zoning is not a sexy topic, but the fact that (this) many people have come out is awesome.”
The city was looking for public opinion on 10 land-use issues relating to a first phase of an update to the current zoning bylaw.
Topics included child-care centres, community gardens and urban agriculture, vehicle parking (including supply, and parking for rental housing and electric vehicles), craft breweries and distilleries, rental housing on church properties, coach houses and suites, short-term rentals, waterfront retail and food and farmers markets.
Among the most contentious topics was the city’s approach to impending cannabis legalization – which, while discussed at all of the open houses, was the sole subject of the May 8 event.
Under consideration is whether retail shops should be allowed in city limits, where they should be located and how they should be regulated, in accordance with provincial guidelines.
The surveys also sought input on whether any regulations should be provided for personal cultivation of non-medicinal cannabis.
An amendment to the current zoning bylaw, adopted in February, effectively banned cannabis retail and dispensing as a land use in the city. Although met with criticism by medical-marijuana advocates, the amendment was described at the time as a temporary measure until all federal and provincial regulations on cannabis distribution become clear.
At the May 8 open house, planning manager Carl Isaak said that while it appears the provincial government will be adopting a BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch model for distribution, it will likely fall to local governments to approve licences, as they do with liquor applications.
“At any point, someone could apply for a rezoning and we could say yes or no – or we could set up a regulation that says that it’s not allowed anywhere in the community,” he said.
Isaak said that members of the public attending the open houses included “a range of experiences,” including some who had lived in Vancouver and had observed negative issues around dispensaries there, and others who are interested in the medical benefits of cannabis.
At that point he said he’d seen a fairly even split between people in favour of cannabis distribution in the city and those opposed.
“I’ve heard about 50/50 with the people I’m speaking to,” he said. “It’s not been a generational thing – I’ve heard from young people who are opposed and older people in favour.”
Among those attending the May 8 open house was longtime marijuana advocate and Hempyz proprietor Randy Caine, who described the very existence of a city-sponsored event canvassing public opinion on cannabis distribution as “a huge step.”
“I think people are ready (for legalization) but we’re not getting a clear message from council,” Caine told Peace Arch News.
“On the other hand, this will go a long way toward encouraging a dialogue.”
Caine said he envisions selling legal non-medical marijuana products as only a small part of his retail operation, which currently markets legal hemp products, and would like to see similar strictures in place to those that currently govern liquor and tobacco sales.
“I would like for marijuana to become boring, not as something that offers any enticement for children,” he said.
In response to a request for further information, city communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi told PAN by email that “a corporate report will be coming to council.”