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Maxed Out: Breaking down the RMOW’s heavy-handed cannabis retail policy

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Many things were put on hold during the pandemic. Some have come back; some haven’t. It’s still nearly impossible to purchase a new vehicle, with available microchips going mainly—it seems—to models with the highest profit margins. Lookin’ at you pickups. Of course, new vehicles will largely disappear completely if China pulls a Putin and starts bombing Taipei, where nearly two-thirds of all chips are produced.

And while I feel empathy for anyone crazy enough to want to fly somewhere—those who’ve discovered their passports are expiring and people who don’t want to buy overpriced pickups and SUVs—I can’t help but wonder how the pandemic managed to induce blindness in so many people who failed to grasp how a couple of years of pent-up demand would likely lead to buying and flying frenzy.

Locally, I’m heartened to see our fearless leaders have finally come to grips with Tiny Town’s place in the legal cannabis landscape. Heartened, but confused. 

The long-delayed RMOW cannabis retail policy was posted early this month and reported in last week’s Pique. While it appears the Byzantine restrictions on legal pot are tailor-made to cannabis outlets, it is unclear whether these new requirements, or at least some of them, will apply to all new and/or renewed retail licences.

Then again, it may just be dat ol’ debil morality rearing its censorious head again.

In case you missed it, if there is a willingness on the part of potential pot store owners to roll the dice and apply for a licence under the new rules, Whistler could have as many as five purveyors of pleasure some time in the future—one each in Function Junction, Creekside, the village proper, Village North and Nesters.

With the exception of Function Junction, the locations make sense. Creekside and the village stores will capture the majority of the tourist trade and Nesters still seems to be where the locals shop, if getting in and out without several conversations with friends is any indication.

But that is where the ‘makes sense’ part begins to evaporate like a smoke ring in the breeze.

Many of the requirements are meaningless. Some are so back-to-the-future they’re laughable.

In the former category, pot shops will have to be at least 750 metres apart. Looking at the authorized locations, it’s clear the only spatial problems this could possibly pose would be the locations in the village and Village North. But the requirement for those is only 150 m. apart. Even if the first applicant opened their doors in the far north end of the village, there would be ample room in the pedestrian-heavy Village North. Not sure what the point is here.

Ditto the requirement the shops be 300 m. from schools. This conveniently bridges the dichotomy and bleeds into the laughable. The federal regulations legalizing cannabis restrict sales to people aged 18 years and older (19 and over in B.C.). The maximum penalty for selling or giving cannabis to underage people: 14 years in the slammer.

Admittedly some high school seniors would be old enough to walk into a shop and buy pot, although I’m pretty sure they’d rather keep buying it from their friends. But interestingly, elsewhere in last week’s paper, it was reported a longitudinal study of school kids in District 48 found Whistler teens have a more favourable view of drug use than the ‘norm.’ That said, the most used ‘controlled’ substance was, of course, alcohol, followed by e-cigs and old fashioned, light-em-up cigarettes. Further down the list was pot.

Both alcohol and cigarettes have age restrictions of 19 in B.C.

The upshot of this is, well, cynicism. And disbelief. When it’s physically impossible for a cannabis shop to open within 300 m. of a school in Whistler—and yes, I know we need another school, just can’t figure out where—and for good measure the Meadow Park Sports Centre is lumped in with schools for this prohibition—even high school kids wonder what the lawmakers have been smoking.

Don’t get me wrong... and don’t burn up the lines to Pique’s editor, I’m not in favour of your kids smoking pot. I’m aware of the literature highlighting the ill effects of cannabis on developing brains. But let’s be honest. Any young person who wants to smoke pot knows where to get it. Same place, likely, they’re getting the alcohol and cigs reported. Same places we got ours before we reached the age of legality. So let’s not add to their growing cynicism about the people running the country by tossing in meaningless rules. No wonder they think we’re a bunch of bozos. Reefer Madness Redux.

More problematic is the licensing vehicle chosen by the RMOW. Potential purveyors of pot can line up for a temporary use permit (TUP). Good for three years, wannabe cannabis entrepreneurs are concerned about the renewal of their permit. With the cost of retail commercial space, the expense of fitting out a store, the challenges of finding staff, and the long list of other woes faced by retailers in town, not to mention the waning profitability of over-regulated cannabis stores, there is some reluctance to embrace a limited-run licence. 

And as if those hurdles weren’t enough, apparently cannabis retailing will be a poster child for the RMOW’s reconciliation efforts. In announcing the new cannabis strategy, his worship, Mayor Jack Crompton, said, “We have spent a lot of time looking into whether cannabis retail can be a part of fulfilling our Official Community Plan policy that asks the RMOW to explore opportunities to incorporate Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation-owned and operated businesses into the local business economy. My hope and expectation is that anyone serious about applying to retail cannabis in Whistler, will look to the Lil’wat or Squamish as business partners.”

Hence my curiosity. Is this ‘expectation’ now a key component of Whistler’s overall retail landscape? Just cannabis? Cannabis plus...? Given those comments and the plan to batch all applications for pot TUPs and make the decisions all at once, it’s pretty clear those who fail to find appropriate business partners are likely to see their plans go up in smoke.

There’s a lot of reasons legal cannabis has failed to make significant in-roads into the black market. High prices, less potency and moralistic restrictions all conspire to keep the old supply chains busy. I’m not sure what hurdles social engineering might add to those barriers, but I guess we’ll see.