The City of Vancouver has made a major announcement regarding marijuana dispensaries. It’s proposing official rules for the shops plus a new business licence category and specific zoning requirements for stores selling cannabis.
The suggested framework is laid out in a staff report that’s scheduled to go to council on April 28.
Among the new rules, a “marijuana-related business” will not be allowed to operate within 300 metres of a school, community centre, or neighbourhood house. There should also be a buffer of 300 metres between each dispensary.
The city also wants to create a new category of business license for stores selling marijuana. Obtaining a licence will involve a three-stage review process.
In addition, city staff suggest there should be a licensing fee of $30,000 imposed on each business. Owners must also sign a “good neighbour agreement” and acquire a development permit that includes a “standard community notification process”.
In a telephone interview, Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang took issue with the characterization of the new rules as crackdown.
“This is a path to the regulation of businesses that have been unregulated,” he told the Straight. “That’s it.”
Jang said the new rules primarily aim to address concerns voiced by the public.
“If I heard complaints, it was mainly about so many shops that were close to schools,” he explained. “So this is about making sure that there is access to medical marijuana, but at the same time, keeping them away from schools, community centres, and each other, so we don’t get clusterings.”
Jang conceded those requirements will mean a number of existing dispensaries will have to either shut down or relocate. Everybody else, he continued, will have to apply for a permit and go through a licensing process similar to other types of businesses in Vancouver.
On the $30,000 fee, Jang maintained that figure was selected based on regulatory expenses incurred by the city. “We do not want to be profiting off marijuana,” he stressed. “It’s simply covering costs.”
From the opposition, NPA councillor Georgie Affleck said the rules are long overdue.
“It’s about time we did something,” he told the Straight in a telephone interview. “We’ve let this slide for too long.”
Affleck noted there are likely still many details to be worked out. He said he anticipates difficult questions for staff when the report goes to council next week.
“Creating structure is good but this is still a federal offence,” Affleck added. “So as a council, we’ll go through this process and have a public hearing. But this is a challenging issue because we are dealing with something that is illegal.”
For years, Vancouver marijuana dispensaries have operated in violation of federal law. At the same time, their number grew from less than a dozen five years ago to more than 80 today.
The Vancouver Police Department has long maintained that while the sale of marijuana is illegal, it does not have the resources to shut down every dispensary in the city, nor does it consider the shops a policing priority.
The federal Conservatives, on the other hand, have held a hard line on marijuana, going so far as to challenge its medical applications in court.
Asked if the city was worried about what reaction the proposed regulations might illicit from higher government, Jang argued the rules are a reaction to a problem created by Ottawa.
“Hopefully what the federal government will see is what we have said all along: that their current regulations around medical marijuana are unworkable and have actually led to the growth of the dispensary industry,” he said. “When people can’t get their medicine, they have to go elsewhere. They created this market.”
The city’s report emphasizes the proposed regulations are not meant to take a position on the legality of marijuana. “The City has no authority to regulate the sale of controlled substances,” it states. “This report recommends land use and business regulations, and does not seek to regulate the product itself.”
The city’s media release on the rules notes the matter will likely be referred to a public hearing on a date yet to be determined.