Council votes to make Vancouver the first Canadian city to regulate storefront medicinal marijuana sales

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      Vancouver has become the first city in Canada to regulate the over-the-counter sale of medicinal marijuana.

      In a 8-3 vote that split along party lines, councillors adopted a legal framework that consists of a new class of business licence plus regulations that will govern the operations of cannabis dispensaries.

      The rules will affect more than 85 marijuana storefronts that have conducted their business outside of zoning regulations. While their operations remain illegal under federal law, shop owners will now have to adhere to city bylaws that address matters such as where cannabis stores can set be up and what sorts of products they can sell.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson said it would have been irresponsible for the city not to act on the rapid growth and proliferation of medicinal marijuana dispensaries across Vancouver.

      “We are in a situation where we act or we sit on our hands,” he said. “We do need a common sense approach and we do need new rules to regulate and control marijuana dispensaries. And I think that this set of rules to control the location and operation of marijuana dispensaries is appropriate.”

      Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs acknowledged that the federal government has loudly opposed the city’s plan to regulate marijuana sales. He responded to criticism from Health Minister Rona Ambrose by accusing Ottawa of falling behind changing attitudes on medicinal cannabis.

      “Wake up,” Meggs said. “You are completely out of touch with the realties on the ground. The policies that you are advocating are backward and destructive.”

      At the same time, Meggs used similarly strong rhetoric to chastise dispensary operators for what he characterized as “tone-deaf” conduct that was not considerate of the communities in which they operate.

      “There has not been a consistent record of good neighbourly behavior by the dispensaries in this city,” he said. “That is what drove us to make the steps that are in front of us now.”

      Meggs issued a warning to dispensaries, saying misconduct such as sales to minors will not be tolerated.

      “I am pleased that there are measures in this bylaw to give the police strength and oversight of these dispensaries,” he said.

      Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang similarly blamed the proliferation of cannabis storefronts on what he characterized as the federal government’s failure to address the matter. He stressed the city is not seeking to regulate the sale or consumption of marijuana, but rather is using bylaws to set rules for land use and business operations.

      “Reality is here,” he said. “We as a city council must do something for our city and that is these bylaws. I think they are a common sense approach. They are a public health approach to dealing with this issue.”

      NPA councillor George Affleck spoke in opposition to the proposed framework. He noted he supports medicinal marijuana, but warned what the city is doing will attract legal battles and likely result in a long feud with Ottawa.

      “I think we are going to have a fight from the federal government,” Affleck said. “I think they may walk in here and say we have to follow the rules. So is this the battle that we want to have? Do we want to spend potentially millions of taxpayer dollars fighting in the courts on many different fronts?”

      “It has gotten out of control,” he concluded.

      NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball likewise said she supports the use of medicinal marijuana but maintained she could not vote in favour of city regulations that appear to endorse activities that violate the law.

      “I do not intend to vote for something that is illegal in Canada and that supports an illegal industry,” she said.

      Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie emphasized the city’s regulatory framework has the support of the Vancouver Police Department as well as regional health authorities.

      Green councillor Adriane Carr voted with Vision councillors in support of the regulations. She described the municipal government’s action on dispensaries as a response to public pressure.

      Weeds Glass and Gifts' Don Briere is one of the larger marijuana dispensary operators in Vancouver.
      Travis Lupick

      The rules were first proposed in a 28-page staff report that was received by council on April 28. That document was subsequently subject to a marathon series of public hearings that saw more than 200 members of the public speak over the course of four meetings held through June.

      The rules that council voted in favour of today only included three noteworthy amendments and are largely identical to those originally proposed by staff. Among the most significant of these changes is the addition of a separate business licence class for compassion clubs. It was also clarified that while stores will not be allowed to sell edibles, they can sell oils and cannabis in capsule form.

      The new regulations forbid marijuana shops from operating within 300 metres of a school or community centre. They also say shops should not stand within 300 metres of each other, and stay out of the Granville Entertainment District as well as the Downtown Eastside (as defined by the area around Main and East Hastings streets). As those bans take effect, it is estimated that as many as a quarter of existing operations will have to close or move to other locations outside of those boundaries.

      In addition, the regulations forbid the sale of medicinal marijuana in the form of edibles such as brownies or gelatin candies. That provision was adopted despite attracting controversy following a June 11 Supreme Court of Canada ruling which found a federal ban on edibles was unconstitutional.

      The framework also carries heavy fees for shop owners, which have thus far not paid money to government beyond federal income tax.

      The new business licence for dispensaries will require operators to pay the city $30,000 per year in the way of an administration fee plus a second annual zoning and development fee of a maximum of $5,100 (determined by a shop’s square footage).

      Speaking toward the end of today’s council meeting, Vision Vancouver’s Tim Stevenson placed the city’s challenge with marijuana dispensaries within a larger context of prohibition.

      “I see no other course,” he said. “We’ve had a war on drugs for a very long time and that has obviously not worked out.”

      Stevenson noted that even the NPA councillors who spoke against the regulations said they were in agreement that attitudes have changed and that they believe medicinal marijuana should be available to patients who can benefit from it.

      “I think this is common sense,” he concluded. “We are in a position where we have to do something.”

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      Jun 24, 2015 at 11:58am

      I'm sure the heads will be exploding in the PMO over this decision.

      Very Concerned

      Jun 24, 2015 at 12:11pm

      I'm having a lot of trouble accepting that this is about medicinal marijuana. When have you ever seen 85 stores selling the same thing pop up on a couple of years and seemingly making money hand over fist? Let's be honest, most of the customers are recreational users and addicts.

      I think if they are going to do this then they need to tighten up the prescription usage to the same level as a real pharmacy. In addition they need to restrict their placement near housing for recovering addicts and at risk people. Right now the new 8 story building at Fraser and Broadway has 3 pot stores open(-ing) within a two block radius. This building not only houses recovering addicts but has the Youth Resource Center, which is for at-risk youths. Recovering will be much more difficult with a source of pot nearby and I don't trust the owners of these shops.

      Neither Cheech nor Chong

      Jun 24, 2015 at 1:08pm

      When one goes to a legitimate pharmacy for a mundane perscription, written by an actual doctor, there are no t-shirts with clever sayings, hanging on the walls.

      Lets be honest with ourselves, this has virtually nothing to do with "medicine". It is all about a trendy high, profits, and a questionable mayor thumbing his nose at Ottawa, to score political points.

      But, maybe, like alcohol, it should be legal. But lets not kid ourselves while we promote pot, it will create the same misery we are all too familiar with. Like alcohol.

      Saul Silver

      Jun 24, 2015 at 1:57pm

      I would be very interested in finding out which of these 85 plus storefronts are following the legislation established under Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations. Oh wait none because you can't legally sell pot through storefronts. Oh and the Georgia Straight's own staff wrote an article highlight exactly how sketchy the supply of these supposedly "medical marijuana" dispensaries are.

      Good Job Vision Vancouver, best of luck trying to secure funding for your new subway now!

      Keyboard Warrior

      Jun 24, 2015 at 4:00pm

      Medicine... Getting High? Listen Cannabis is good for you. 9-5 life is hard, tough, stressful Cannabis really helps with that prevents long term damage to health, wellness and spirit.

      we'll see

      Jun 24, 2015 at 6:15pm

      when and if they do a background check. how many dispensary "owners" have criminal records.

      yup....we'll see.
      My guess is MANY
      ahhhhhhhhhhhh how quickly people turn a blind eye.

      Reasonable Head

      Jun 24, 2015 at 9:21pm

      Heads don't get licenses from the Government. Pigfucking Quislings do. This will do nothing but cement the inflated prices charged due to the war on drugs, on the premise that "medicine" costs more. If every shop just started selling without medical paperwork, they couldn't all be shut down, the VPD doesn't have the budget, plus the City pays for much of the cost of provincial court---see the 1969 act constituting the provincial court. 1969, what a year! people weren't such stupid fuckups back then.

      We had a golden opportunity for legalization---and these quislings have ruined it. Divide and conquor is an old strategy. Too bad you morons fell for it. Too high on pot? Or maybe you like the inflate drugwar prices! Like any of these shops could tolerate legalization and $200/lb weed.


      Jun 24, 2015 at 10:13pm

      I've heard that prescriptions are not needed for these shops. Basically pot is legal legal for sale in the city of Vancouver & I'd guess the shop owners are making a lot of money on it. So Vancouver will be pot shops, Starbucks & empty overpriced condos..??