This morning (April 22) city hall announced it will impose new rules on medical marijuana dispensaries, of which there are more than 80 in Vancouver.
On April 28, council will receive a report from staff that proposes a new category of business license for pot shops, as well as a number of bylaw changes that will affect where and how dispensaries operate.
Among them, marijuana-related businesses will have to pay a $30,000 licensing fee. They will be forbidden to operate within 300 metres of a school or community centre. Additional rules prohibit the sale of edibles and pertain to security requirements such as closed-circuit cameras.
Despite the prospect of so much new red tape, industry leaders have so-far reacted with overwhelming support for the city’s proposals.
Jodie Emery is Canada’s most-visible advocate for legalization and, with her husband, Marc, the owner of several marijuana-related businesses. She described the draft regulatory framework as “a positive step”.
“It shows the provincial government and the federal government that the City of Vancouver acknowledges there are no problems with dispensaries and that dispensaries can act just like any other businesses,” Emery said in a telephone interview.
She argued the city is acting to fill a regulatory void left by higher levels of government.
“We wouldn’t have so many opening up if there wasn’t a demand,” Emery said. “Clearly, people want to buy pot, people want to sell pot, and they would like to be taxed and regulated.”
Likely the largest dispensary franchise in Vancouver is Weeds Glass and Gifts, of which there are now 15 locations. Its founder, Don Briere, told the Straight the new rules will not just benefit the medicinal marijuana community but society as a whole.
“We think this is fabulous,” he said. “It’s win-win for everybody.”
Briere explained that with marijuana regulated and sold through storefronts, those businesses pay property taxes. He said that by legitimizing the sale of marijuana, it minimizes the extent to which organized crime can profit from the drug. Briere also emphasized the number of jobs dispensaries now support, noting Weeds Glass and Gifts alone employees 44 people.
He did however add the regulations could increase prices for dispensary customers. “The costs will be passed onto the consumer,” Briere said.
David Brown, a spokesperson for Lift Cannabis Co., said the industry had heard new regulations were coming. He told the Straight the rules will very likely result in some dispensaries shutting down. But Brown suggested that’s not a bad thing for the industry as a whole.
He explained that by implementing new rules, the city has an opportunity to crack down on operators that were taking advantage of the situation while rewarding those that have acted responsibly.
“I think, overall, this is really good in that it establishes some sort of legal precedent to start looking at how cities in Canada can manage the over-the-counter distribution model,” he said.
In 2012-13, Dana Larsen led a consequential but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to see recreational marijuana decriminalized in B.C. In a telephone interview, he similarly told the Straight the industry is in favour of regulation.
At the same time, Larsen described some of the proposed rules as “problematic”. For example, Larsen argued a ban on the sale of edibles could negatively impact people who are uncomfortable ingesting marijuana via the process of smoking. He added advocates for medicinal marijuana plan on voicing those concerns when the matter goes to a public hearing.
“This is a step forward,” Larsen emphasized. “We want regulation, we want to be treated like any other business. But we don’t want punitive regulations that treat marijuana more harshly than other things. But this is only a first draft and we’re hoping that the city is amenable to feedback.”
Larsen predicted whatever rules local politicians decide to implement will likely be felt beyond the borders of Vancouver.
“I expect that whatever we come up with will probably act as a template for many other cities in Canada,” he said. “And so I hope that we can get it right here in Vancouver and make a good example for other cities to follow.”