Citizens will soon get to have a say on how Vancouver should regulate the storefront sale of medicinal marijuana.
When the new rules are eventually voted into law—an outcome that’s all but certain given councillors from all three civic parties have already spoken in their favour—Vancouver will become the first municipality in Canada to permit and regulate the over-the-counter sale of marijuana.
Speaking before council, city manager Penny Ballem stressed a municipal government has no jurisdiction over a drug’s legality. She emphasized the city’s new rules are only intended to regulate the businesses side of dispensaries, of which there are already more than 80 operating in Vancouver.
"We need to bring this into the best framework possible under the circumstances,” Ballem said.
The proposed framework would create a class of business licence specifically for the sale of marijuana. It would also charge dispensaries a $30,000 licence fee. Shops will not be permitted within 300 metres of a school or community centre. There is also a long list of rules that stores would have to abide by, such as a prohibition on the sale of edibles and adhering to strict security requirements.
According to a presentation delivered by Ballem, it’s estimated only 20 of the 80 existing dispensaries will be permitted to remain in their current locations. However, the same model projects the new regulations will eventually result in an overall increase in the number of dispensaries, to approximately 100.
Later in the morning, Ballem took questions from councillors. Among points on which she provided clarification, Ballem said no one under the age of 18 will be permitted inside a dispensary. She also defended a staff recommendation against the sale of edibles, arguing cannabis sold in the form of baked goods or candies could hamper efforts to keep cannabis products away from children and underage teenagers.
The decision to send the legal framework to a public hearing passed by a vote of nine to one. The only councillor to oppose the motion was the NPA’s Elizabeth Ball, who said she could not legitimize an industry that operates in violation of federal law.
The Conservative government in Ottawa has warned Vancouver not to go ahead with its plan.
“I am deeply concerned by reports that the City of Vancouver intends to discuss a proposal to regulate illegal drug dispensaries at an upcoming Council meeting,” reads an April 23 letter signed by health minister Rona Ambrose.
She argues there the federal government already has laws in place that adequately control the sale of medicinal marijuana.
“These Regulations are clear and do not provide municipalities with the authority to legitimize the commercial sale of marijuana, which remains an illegal substance,” Ambrose wrote. “Storefronts and dispensaries do not operate with a ‘grey zone’, and the law is clear: they are illegal.”
City representatives including Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang subsequently responded to Ambrose’s statement via interviews with media. They argued the federal government is “misinformed” about the city’s proposed regulations and their intent.
A date has yet to be set for the public hearing on marijuana dispensaries. The city has said it will likely convene in late May or early June.