Vancouver marijuana dispensaries are zero-for-four at the board of variance.
Last Wednesday (February 17) the board heard from the first of 62 cannabis storefronts that have appealed decisions the city made to reject their applications for development permits.
In a telephone interview, Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said the city denied all four on the grounds that they were found to operate within 300-metre buffer zones set around schools, community centres, and other dispensaries.
He told the Straight that, after watching the first week of appeals, it looks like the variance board will not be easily convinced exemptions should be made for shops violating the distance requirement.
“They very much strictly applied our bylaw, which is designed to protect kids from access,” Jang said.
He added the board has made clear it will not consider more general questions related to marijuana’s medicinal applications.
“Certainly, they are not being swayed by arguments or discussions about medicinal benefits and all that,” Jang said. “That’s not their role. So they are very much sticking to the bylaw.”
Jamie Shaw is president of the Canadian Association of Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries and a spokesperson for the B.C. Compassion Club, a nonprofit dispensary for which the city denied a business permit application on account of the store standing close to a school. The Compassion Club has filed an appeal and is scheduled to appear before the variance board on April 20.
Shaw told the Straight that based on how the appeals have gone so far, it doesn’t look like Vancouver is going to be left with many dispensaries beyond 16 the city has already allowed to move forward in the regulatory process to apply for business licenses.
She said she however remains optimistic about the B.C. Compassion Club, explaining that’s because rather than arguing against the logic or rationale of the distance requirements, her dispensary will present why it should be granted an exemption from those rules for specific reasons that relate to the community.
The B.C. Compassion Club has operated at its current location at 2995 Commercial Drive for 19 years, Shaw noted. And while a school is located nearby, its leaders have said they do not oppose the marijuana business continuing to operate as it does today.
The four dispensaries that lost appeals listed their addresses as 405 Skeena Street, 2910 Commercial Drive, 1299 Kingsway, and 2943 Kingsway.
The city has said that any storefront that remains open without a business license after an April 20 deadline could be shut down and penalized at any time.
Today there are an estimated 100 storefronts selling marijuana within the City of Vancouver. On the prospect of as many as 80 of them being forced to close, Shaw warned that could create the very problem that the city’s regulatory process was initiated to solve.
“Council said from the beginning that it wouldn’t be very easy to get through the process,” she said. “But if they are too strict and don’t allow enough dispensaries to meet the need, they are just going to end up with unregulated dispensaries again.”