On October 17, just days before the municipal elections in BC, Canada will be facing a very new economic and social landscape. This June, the Federal government announced legislation to legalize cannabis from coast to coast, making it just the second country in the world to take this product entirely into the legal market. While it has been left to the individual provinces to decide which models they will use for sales and distribution, the final rollout of cannabis on Canadian soil will be up to municipalities.

On the one hand, this is a great opportunity for communities that may be in favour or against the arrival of cannabis to their markets- but on the other hand, they are also left sorting out how to actually implement the will of their constituents. Some cities have decided altogether that they don’t want to have cannabis being sold within their borders, leaving customers and medical patients having to travel to neighbouring towns to make their purchases. Other cities, particularly Vancouver, will have to grapple with the conversions of the already booming marijuana market, many parts of which will have to restructure or even close down, depending on the products they sell and whatever legislation the new city council will enact.

In Coquitlam, our council has decided to maintain the status quo with this product until the final details from the Federal government and the province have been fully released. While it may impede access to medication for some, it does avoid any potential backtracking that may be required should any conflicting changes be made before that. In the meantime there are many ways for citizens to acquire the product, whether it’s visiting the Cannabis Culture lounge downtown, or even driving out east to one of the many dispensaries in Mission. The future of cannabis sales in Coquitlam has been placed entirely on the soon-to-be-elected council.

What would that look like in our city? Would it vary between the other members of the Tri-Cities, or should there be a region-wide plan? I have a hunch that the glamorous style of cannabis sales of downtown Vancouver would not be widely accepted in Coquitlam, but neither do I believe would an outright ban. What, then, are our options, and what might concerned residents be able to do to make sure that they are safe and protected?

Of course there are the examples we already know of: the full-on lounge style smoking rooms like the aforementioned Cannabis Culture, which is actually quite similar to the “coffeeshop” style in Amsterdam, Netherlands. While it is unlikely that the goal of such a storefront is to attract vulnerable people, the social effect undoubtedly ends up drawing in minors who may hope that they don’t get asked for ID, or that someone might “boot” for them. Clearly this is something that we must strive to avoid, but I look to our liquor sales system and am convinced that this is not a difficult hurdle to overcome. Students going through high school are quick to admit that it is far easier to get illegal drugs in Canada than it is to purchase alcohol.

The next step down is also available in Vancouver: a shop that sells cannabis and related products, but does not offer a place to consume it. This choice is a fair bit easier on the neighbours who might be concerned about the smell of the product wafting through the neighbourhood. There may still be an aspect of attraction to minors; paraphernalia such as bongs and pipes are often designed in a “radical” style, simply for the awe factor in their aesthetics.

Below this is really just having a small amount of commercial floor space for a counter to sell the product behind. With enough customers, even a newly formed business shouldn’t have difficulty paying for the square footage, despite the housing crisis we find ourselves in.

Others may be quick to suggest that the Federal government provides mail order cannabis, but most anyone in the industry can attest that the quality is often questionable, to the point where there have been issues of providing safe product. It is also quite common to hear the idea of selling it in BC Liquor stores, but even young people now have seen the MADD videos explaining that mixing cannabis and alcohol is a potentially dangerous idea.

Beyond these choices, Canadians will really only otherwise have the option of growing it themselves. There is much discussion at the municipal level as to whether they would approve of this, particularly in government subsidized housing, but the current framework says it’s totally not allowed, and the new legislation will simply mean the opposite. The main concern of municipalities, it seems, is the presumed electrical work that is typically associated with large scale grow operations, but let’s be clear: at present Canadians are already growing this plant en masse on their properties (this is one of the main drivers of social change that led to the new legislation), and the actual lighting requirements of the soon-to-be legal amount is very much minimal. Especially for those living in high rises there is already more than enough daylight coming through their windows to sustain four healthy plants.

If a municipality were really intent on avoiding high tech electrical fires, it would make far more sense to regulate the use of ballasts and high voltage lighting in residential areas, something easy to oversee as the spike in electrical usage is easy to track through hydro bills. Otherwise, growing four cannabis plants in your own home is as benign as growing four tomato plants. We already have incredibly strict regulations on using drones within city limits- so much so that a controller is completely banned from using them anywhere near buildings of any kind. Creating legislation around the use of high tech agricultural electrical equipment is not a stretch next to that.

There are, of course, other concerns related to cannabis use. People with predispositions to mental health conditions and addiction should be very much aware of the risk of exacerbating their symptoms, though local government will argue that this is in the hands of the provinces or the Federal government. However, I draw comparisons to the recent issue of Chinese-only signage in Richmond. While an outright ban proved to be incredibly problematic, they were able to overcome these issues by communicating with local sign makers to convince their clients to include English on their purchased products. Why not work with potential business owners to display signage in their shops warning of these concerns? It is hard to imagine any ethical business owner refusing such a request to protect their clients.

Coquitlam, like the rest of Canada, is on the precipice of major social change. Legalization is just around the corner and we have the opportunity to show the rest of the country what responsible sale and consumption looks like. Keep it out of the hands of children, ensure that residents are truly aware of the health risks associated with the product, and make sure that businesses don’t fall into a position of glamorizing their products to vulnerable populations. I can think of a few places in the city where cannabis could be sold discreetly and safely!


See the Tri-City News article on this topic.

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