Nanaimo considers options to regulate pot shops

NANAIMO – A report is expected in January looking at licensing regulation options for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Nanaimo city officials will explore options to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as advocates call for standards.

It’s an important and positive step in the right direction, says Matthew O’Donnell, Nanaimo Cannabis Coalition spokesman and operations manager for Phoenix Pain Management Society, of the recent decision.

“Realistically this is where the real work begins,” he said. “The discussion is actually starting.”

Nanaimo city council called on staff last week to report on licensing regulation options for medical marijuana dispensaries, and will also consider a joint letter with the City of Victoria, asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when the federal government will have guidelines for municipalities on dispensaries and legalization.

It’s the first formal action on the regulation issue by council, but it isn’t the first local government faced with the question of what to do about pot shops.

Port Alberni, for example, decided this year to move toward regulation, while Duncan has decided against approving business licences for medical marijuana dispensaries still considered illegal under federal law.

There seems to be forward movement on the subject, according to Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay, who said he hopes the report will show what other communities are doing and summarize current regulatory framework to guide council.

“It’s time to gather all of the pertinent information that we’ve been receiving and start putting it all together in one place,” he said, adding this is very topical in the community right now and people are confused about the legality. “Hopefully this will provide some clarity.”

The issue of medical marijuana storefronts and non-profits ramped up in November as the Nanaimo RCMP warned 11 dispensaries to shut down or face potential enforcement. Search warrants were executed and arrests made at three dispensaries, Dec. 1.

In an e-mail, a spokesman for the Department of Justice Canada said pressing charges is a matter for law enforcement officials, but dispensaries and other sellers of marijuana who are not licensed under the current law are still illegal. He also said it’s too early to speculate on specifics of the government’s plan to legalize marijuana.

“The approach to these unlicenced dispensaries is something that the government will consider as part of its approach to legalizing and regulating marijuana, but at this point, we cannot speculate further,” he said.

O’Donnell told city council Dec. 14 the industry is “begging” for regulation and said there’s a need for guidance and leadership from all three levels of government.

Council unanimously agreed to get a report. Coun. Jim Kipp said how we move forward as a community is important to a lot of people, and Coun. Wendy Pratt said legalization at the federal level isn’t going to happen overnight, but there are real issues in this city around those who work in the industry and those who use the products.

“I really do believe it’s something we need to get a handle on one way or another,” she said.

A city report is expected to be released early January.