Tofitians are helping their local government blaze a trail towards cannabis regulations.
The district hosted a second cannabis open house event on Tuesday where the feedback from the first open house was shared and potential directions were proposed.
“We took everything that we heard at that meeting as well as everything we received online and separated it into themes and, from there, we’re starting to develop policy,” said Tofino’s community sustainability manager Aaron Rodgers. “What we have today at this meeting is some of the ideas that we’re starting to think about.”
Cannabis has been a fiery topic in Tofino since the district proposed a temporary restriction on the sale of it, which prompted an outcry from locals loud enough to convince its municipal council to set a new course.
“I’m really pleased to see the level of engagement that we’ve had from people and the amount of feedback they’ve given,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne. “The feedback we’ve received is thoughtful…People are quite, I think, respectful of different opinions.”
Two key themes of feedback received so far has been the number of cannabis retail stores Tofino could accommodate and where consumption of marijuana should be permitted.
“We’ve received pretty much a 50/50 split on those who think that consumption should be regulated like alcohol, i.e. not permitted anywhere where you’re not allowed to drink a beer and those who are more accepting of it being able to be consumed in public places,” Osborne said. “We’ll see where this goes with respect to council’s decision and deliberation over that.”
She added the district is also receiving information from public health officials and child and youth representatives.
“I think, when we take that into account, a cautious approach is wise,” Osborne said. “One where we start out perhaps with more restrictions than some would like but, as time goes by, and activities become more normalized or accepted and we have a greater understanding of the role of cannabis in society, they could change.”
Rodgers said the feedback the district has received so far suggests locals are open to having a maximum of five retail stores, though they’d like them to be spread out with a minimum distance between each one, and consumption should be kept out of public areas.
“What we’re hearing back from the community is that treating it more like alcohol and less like cigarettes may be the way that we go,” he said. “You’re not permitted to drink alcohol on a park or on a beach or on a road and cannabis is, similarly, a controlled substance.”
The Westerly News conducted a quick survey of people hanging out at Tofino’s Village Green across the street from the open house event where people seemed unanimously in favour of keeping cannabis away from kids’ play areas.
“I don’t think people should smoke pot at the playground or anywhere downtown in Tofino,” said local father of two Grant Traviss. “I think the beach is fine to smoke pot at because it’s a big open area and you can get away. It’s not quite the same as being here at our local skatepark.”
“I don’t feel like marijuana should be consumed at playgrounds,” agreed fellow local Jai Crosbie. “I don’t think smoking is good as far as anything, whether it’s cannabis or cigarettes. Generally, [kids] are going to see it, but why not keep it away from them in their area where they’re playing? They don’t need to be surrounded by that when they’re playing.”
Vancouver local Alaine Maxwell, who owns property in Tofino, said she’s grown accustomed to seeing and smelling pot around playgrounds.
“I don’t think you should be able to openly smoke it,” she said. “I see it all the time now. I smell it and I know it’s around and it is what it is. I haven’t had a strong reaction yet, but I wouldn’t mind if it was more regulated like alcohol.”
Comox Valley resident Holly Fisher agreed.
“It’s super pungent smelling,” she said “It should be, kind of, consumed to the side or in a hidden place because it’s stinky and it’s not for kids.”
Judson McCauley, a tourist from Washington, where marijuana has been legalized, said treating marijuana like alcohol has been a good step for his community.
“Typically, the law has been that anywhere you can’t consume alcohol, it’s the same for marijuana,” he said. “If you want to consume alcohol at your private residence, that’s fine. If you want to consume marijuana, that’s fine. And, I tend to agree with the sentiment that we treat it the same…You still get a lot of latitude to use marijuana.”