Vancouver marijuana dispensaries have a few extra days grace before an official deadline to close.
The city originally told business owners that any storefront not moving through the regulatory process was to cease operations by April 20. Now, that date as it appears on a city website has been updated to read April 29.
In a telephone interview, Andreea Toma, director of licensing and property-use inspections for the City of Vancouver, told the Straight the change is not an extension, “per se”.
“The deadlines are specific to when a six-month count starts,” she explained. “It depends on when they were notified.”
Toma added that while many dispensaries therefore have slightly different deadlines, the absolute date by which the very last of them should close is the end of the last Friday of April.
Vancouver became the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a regulatory framework for the over-the-counter sale of cannabis when city council passed a series of bylaw amendments and created a new category of business license in June 2015.
In the rush that followed, the city received 176 applications. Since then, a majority have dropped out of the race by failing to meet subsequent deadlines for paperwork or were kicked out by the city finding them in contravention of the new bylaws.
According to Toma, only six dispensaries have been approved for development permits while another 17 are under various stages of review and on their way to likely approval.
Many more dispensaries were found to be in contravention of the city’s bylaws but have filed appeals with the board of variance.
According to Louis Ng, the board’s secretary and freedom of information officer, 62 dispensaries filed appeals. Since then, the board has heard nine of them. Eight were dismissed and one was adjourned to allow the relevant parties to produce additional information.
The next round of appeals hearings is scheduled to begin on April 6. The entire process is expected to run through to the end of November.
Meanwhile, Toma said that a parallel process of “declustering” also remains ongoing. That refers to one of the new bylaws that states two dispensaries should not operate within 300 metres of one another. Toma said the city’s licensing and property use inspections department is assessing those applications. She added that when all is said and done, that will likely result in an additional six storefronts receiving tacit approval to continue on through the process for development permits.
Jamie Shaw is president of the Canadian Association of Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries. She called attention to a gap between the date dispensaries are ordered closed at the end of April and the time by which it is expected the variance board will finish with appeals.
“A lot of our members, their board of variance meetings are not until May, June, or July,” she said. “They are scrambling right now. They are trying to do everything they can to comply with everything. But at the same time, they have BOV [board of variance] inspections scheduled for dates after they are supposed to close.”
Shaw noted some of those businesses will have to keep paying rent and try to maintain staff for months after they are instructed to cease operations.
“They don’t feel like they can just close to comply with that date if it is going to bed decided later that they may be able to stay open,” she said.
Toma acknowledged some businesses will be left in limbo. She said that means storefronts that do continue to sell marijuana past the April 29 deadline will not necessarily see the Vancouver police charging through their doors on the morning of April 30.
“That depends on the relationship that they’ve established with us over the last two months,” she said. “It’s based on the information that we have to date, in terms of what kind of an operation they are running.”