Esquimalt Council voted to deny all applications for dispensary business licenses Monday, with a 6–1 vote.
Officials said their decision was based on federal law that classifies dispensaries as illegal, and that until it changes the city remains opposed.
“Everyone felt if the federal law changed, then there would be that opportunity in the future, but with the current law the way it is, we need to follow it,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins.
Delegates at the Union of BC Municipalities convention voted together in September to officially endorse their authority to regulate cannabis dispensaries.
Esquimalt Councillor Susan Low was one of the few representatives that spoke against the Union decision.
“Medical marijuana is a health service. That’s not part of local government’s jurisdiction. I’d be very uncomfortable trying to do that. I’m not qualified to do that,” Low said at the convention. “Right now, medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal, so in Esquimalt we won’t be issuing business licences for them.”
Desjardins said after looking at other municipalities, she didn’t want her city to have dispensaries open first and then try to regulate them afterward, similar to Vancouver and Victoria.
“They have significant challenges and until it’s clarified, we will just follow the law and be clear on our policy,” Desjardins said, noting the cost of processing applications would eclipse any business fees directed to the city. “This is obviously an industry that is going to grow, despite the federal reality that it is currently illegal.”
No dispensary applications had been filed in Esquimalt, the decision was triggered by an inquiry.
The lone vote against the ban came from Councillor Olga Liberchuk, who said she preferred to wait until after the federal election result to decide.
“The reality of dispensaries is they are popping up and we need to deal with it in one way or another,” Liberchuk said. “Vancouver is willing to do it, Victoria is willing to do it, White Rock is willing to do it, and I was hoping that we would be a little bit more open to it as well.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she thought it would be interesting with two neighbouring cities taking different approaches to the same issue. Victoria is currently drafting business and zoning regulations for its 20 dispensaries, to be prepared for November.
“Now we’re doing two pilot projects, not just one,” Helps said.