Local governments can play a role in protecting the health of the public once marijuana is officially legalized on Oct. 17, according to medical health officers from Island Health.
In a letter to the leaders of local governments across the Island, six medical health officers said these governments’ jurisdiction in zoning, land use, business licensing, building codes, nuisance and clean air bylaws, and enforcement can all be leveraged to promote a public-health approach to pot once it’s legal.
In fact, the City of Duncan and the municipality of North Cowichan have already moved forward on some of the strategies suggested by the health officers in the lead up to pot legalization
One strategy the health officers suggest is to restrict public consumption of marijuana.
“By limiting where cannabis can be consumed, local governments can reduce unwanted exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke or vapour, and can reduce the visibility of cannabis consumption for youth,” the letter said.
“Prohibit public cannabis consumption wherever tobacco or alcohol consumption is already prohibited. This should include areas not covered by provincial legislation, including enclosed public spaces, transit shelters, common areas of apartment buildings and community care facilities, and areas frequented by children and youth, such as parks, beaches, pools, playgrounds, and sports fields.”
The City of Duncan decided last month that smoking any kind of substance, including marijuana, within six metres of windows, doorways and air intakes in public buildings in Duncan is no longer allowed.
The amended bylaw also extends the city’s smoke-free zones in outdoor public spaces to include parks, playgrounds, playing fields, public squares, and public-water frontage.
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said city staff are still in the process of developing more bylaws and policies in regards to marijuana as Oct. 17 approaches.
He said that includes deciding the rules that will deal with retail marijuana shops in regards to their placement in the community and other issues.
“The province has decided to allow municipalities to decide on how many of these issues will be dealt with,” he said.
“We’re not there yet, but staff are working diligently on them. I expect they’ll table a report for the new council after the upcoming elections.”
In regards to the placement of the marijuana shops in communities, the medical officers also said in the letter that local governments can ensure retail sales of non-medical marijuana in their communities should be limited to reduce the unintended exposure to youth, as well as harmful patterns of consumption in the general population.
The health officers suggested restricting marketing of pot, such as on sandwich boards, exterior signage and flyers, and establishing a minimum separation of 300 metres between marijuana retail outlets to limit overall density of pot availability in the community.
“Local governments could also establish a minimum buffer zone of 300 metres, and preferably 600 metres, between cannabis retail outlets and schools, recreation centres, and other areas where children and youth frequent,” the officers said.
“They could also limit hours of sale to at least correspond with alcohol-sale policy, while greater restriction would provide additional health and safety benefits.”
The Municipality of North Cowichan has amended its bylaws this summer in an effort to deal with some of these concerns.
The amendment of the bylaw means that any application to set up a pot shop in the municipality will require a site-specific zoning amendment that would have to come before council to be considered.
Staff had determined that this would allow North Cowichan’s council to have the greatest level of control over where these types of operations can or cannot occur in the community.
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said council will still have to make decisions as to exactly where and under what conditions each of the pot shops that apply to set up businesses in the municipality will operate after Oct. 17.
“The new zoning amendment that we passed means at least it will be within council’s purview to make these decisions,” he said.