Marijuana shops high on municipal agenda

Even small towns struggle with unregulated pot shops as Justin Trudeau government holds hearings on legalization

B.C. communities struggling to deal with unregulated marijuana sales are looking for help, or a piece of the action as growers and sellers compete for a share of the expanding legal market.

Pot problems are high on the agenda for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September, as local governments continue to deal with fire hazards and retail outlets selling untested marijuana products in defiance of federal and local laws.

Nelson and Duncan councils are calling on the provincial and federal governments to share tax revenue with local governments, when the Justin Trudeau government puts its plan to legalize recreational marijuana sales next year.

Nelson also wants a say in the legalization process, as a federal-provincial task force tours the country to hear from public health, police and substance abuse experts.

For now, B.C. is the Wild West of pot production. Communities that try to regulate quasi-medical dispensaries find their tickets and orders ignored as shops proliferate in a legal vacuum.

Langley fire officials determined this week that a recent house fire was caused by an explosion in a marijuana “extraction lab” using butane as a solvent. The process is used to make “honey oil” and “shatter,” a crystal concentrate that is one of the most potent marijuana preparations. Oils and concentrates are sold in some dispensaries and used in baked goods.

Nelson recently saw its eighth pot store open without a business licence, as it considers regulations adopted in Kimberly and Vancouver. Sooke has three dispensaries, as the issue moves to smaller communities.

In the Okanagan, communities are taking a harder line. Penticton has cancelled the business licences of medical marijuana shops, despite their arguments that they are “compassion clubs” supplying people with legally recognized medical uses.

Vernon council voted down a proposal to develop its own bylaw regulating dispensaries, as Victoria and other communities are doing. A staff report advised councillors that business licences have not been issued because storefront sales remain illegal in Canada.