Complaints about marijuana dispensaries have increased each year since the City of Vancouver implemented a licensing regimen in 2015. But even after two years of consecutive growth, the number remains relatively small.
In 2015, there were 30 complaints, according to data supplied by the city. Then 84 in 2016 and 112 in 2017 (up to December 6).
For comparison’s sake, so far in 2017 the city has received 348 complaints about other business categories (excluding illegal housing suites and short-term rentals like those on Airbnb). Meanwhile, this year there have been 5,529 complaints about potholes and 7,734 about streetlight outages.
Kathryn Holm is the city’s director of licensing, property-use inspections, and animal services. In a telephone interview, Holm noted that complaints are up across the board. (In 2015, there were only 1,479 pothole complaints, for example.) Holm explained that the city has worked to make people aware that they can file grievances by calling 311 or via the VanConnect app, so more people are using those services.
She described 112 complaints about marijuana storefronts as a “manageable volume”.
“Whether it’s low or not, ideally we’d have no complaints,” Holm added. “I wouldn’t say the sky has fallen.”
Today there are about 95 cannabis storefronts operating in Vancouver.
A sample of complaints provided by the city suggests that another reason the numbers have gone up is because after the city created rules for marijuana businesses, residents could report them for breaking those rules.
“Citizen is calling to complain about a marijuana business operating without a licence,” reads one example.
And a second: “Caller is concerned that business is operating without a licence and within 300m of a school.”
There are, however, other complaints about the plant itself and dispensary-employee conduct.
“Citizen reports that the dispensary had people smoking and ‘dabbing’ inside in the business at 6:35pm,” one of those reads.
The city responds to complaints about marijuana businesses, having issued 2,402 tickets since the new bylaws were introduced. Only 425 tickets have been paid, but that doesn’t mean that delinquent dispensaries get off scot-free.
Walter Sorto operates two cannabis storefronts under the name Sunrise Wellness Foundation Dispensary. He told the Straight that even a single complaint or ticket can have severe consequences. Sorto explained that the city’s regulatory process takes complaints into account and weighs them against a dispensary’s application for a licence. So if someone wants to go legitimate with their business—a potentially profitable option with the federal government legalizing recreational cannabis and new laws scheduled to come into effect in July 2018—the smart move is to play by the rules.
“A complaint can completely deny a request with the city to open up a dispensary,” Sorto emphasized.