Victoria Mayor Says Island Health Should Monitor Edibles

The City of Victoria debated the creation of bylaws for the town’s growing number of medical cannabis dispensaries yesterday, with officials recommending to not explicitly prohibit edible sales.

Victoria mayor Lisa Helps said the bylaws are silent on edibles because she doesn’t feel it’s the city’s responsibility to regulate food products and that it’s the provincial Health Authority that should be looking at these facilities.

“When someone wants to open up just a regular coffee shop in Victoria, we don’t have any rules about the chocolate chip cookies that are sold at that coffee shop,” Helps said. “We don’t say they need to be baked in this or that facility, they don’t have to have specific ingredients — that’s not within our jurisdiction, so what we hope is that the Health Authority will take responsibility for the regulation of edibles.”

With three locations in Victoria, Trees Dispensary community liaison Alexander Robb said he was pleased to see the city reflect the public’s views on cannabis, with councillors not putting any restrictions on edibles or delivery and potentially allowing onsite consumption of medical cannabis.

“I think we’re really seeing the benefits of community engagement when we look at Victoria’s licensing standards, which are very thoughtful and reasonable, compared to Vancouver’s model, which seem to have been rushed in, without a lot of feedback from the community,” Robb said.

Robb suggested that, due to the difference in the capital’s ability to collect fees compared to Vancouver, Victoria isn’t interested in overloading or overburdening, either their variance board or community associations with medical dispensaries.

“They don’t have the same kind of powers to charge a large licensing fee that can cover a long, drawn out process of hearings, so they have to be more efficient,” said Robb.

Helps said a large reason the city is silent on edibles is due to listening to what medical patients, and the cannabis industry, have to say.

“We held a town hall meeting and had quite a bit of community engagement,” said Helps. “We heard from a lot of seniors and, particularly, senior women who use medical cannabis to manage their pain and have absolutely no interest in smoking it — so they need access to their medicine.”

Helps said, just like any food operation would need to pass an inspection with Island Health, so should medical edible producers, making monitoring the purview of the province.

“There’s the food aspect of it, which is their responsibility, and then there’s also the medical component — is there the right dosage, etc. I don’t know if that’s the provincial government or the federal government but it’s certainly not the city,” Helps said.

In reaction to the city’s decision, provincial MHO Perry Kendall issued a statement yesterday that he was disappointed Victoria will permit edibles to be sold and that public health officials don’t have the ability to regulate cannabis in edibles any more than the city does.

“Their powers are limited to issuing a license to a business based on the satisfactory condition of the food premises in which the food is either prepared or sold,” Kendall said. “Without considerable investments in technology, the concentration of active ingredients (and hence potency) cannot be accurately and consistently monitored and guaranteed – hence a product of varying potency presents risks to the consumer.”

Helps said she doesn’t doubt that the province is ill-equipped to currently monitor these products.

“But, just like we’re not set up as a municipality to be regulating marijuana, the reality is that it’s happening and so we need to respond and so too does Island Health,” she said.

Robb said, with medical cannabis already here and recreational just around the corner, the most important thing cities can do is put pressure on provincial departments to begin investigating their responsibilities.

“The province should be proactive and they should be looking at how they’re going to regulate different aspects of this industry,” said Robb. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be in the province’s court to decide what is the method of distribution, the safety and health standards for products.”

Helps said the bylaws are still not finalized and won’t be for potentially a month and half. Robb estimated that the first business licenses probably won’t be given out for around six months.