Marijuana dispensary claims city's interpretation of distance extends school buffers far beyond 300 metres

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      Marijuana dispensaries appearing before the board of variance are learning that there are many ways to interpret distance, but only one that matters to the City of Vancouver.

      If you measure the distance as one walks on the street between a school on Quebec Street and the front door of LotusLand Cannabis Society, it is more than 300 metres.

      If you measure the distance as a crow flies, it is still more than 300 metres.

      And if you measure the distance from the edge of the school’s property to the floor space occupied by the marijuana dispensary? Once again, it is more than 300 metres.

      And yet LotusLand was denied a business-licence application on the grounds that it falls within a 300-metre buffer that prevents dispensaries from operating near schools, community centres, and other dispensaries.

      In a telephone interview, Andreea Toma, director of licensing and property use inspections for the City of Vancouver, explained that distancing regulations are applied from the edge of one property line to the edge of another property line.

      For a business that resides within a larger stratified building, as LotusLand does, that means the distance to the nearby school is measured not from the site where the dispensary sells marijuana but from the edge of the much larger building’s property.

      “That is what is consistently applied to all businesses in any distancing regulation,” Toma told the Straight. “It is not new for the marijuana businesses. It is what is applied.”

      Toma did not deny that this conceptualization of distance could increase the marijuana-business buffer zones beyond the 300 metres described in zoning bylaws the city passed last June. But she repeated that this is how the city interprets rules specified by distance.

      Kirk Tousaw is a lawyer who specializes in marijuana and who represented LotusLand at a variance-board hearing on March 2. He told the Straight this interpretation of distance the city uses will mean there are going to be fewer dispensaries left standing than many people anticipated.

      “The difficulty, from my client’s perspective, is that they are in a strata building and one small unit within a building that takes up a city block,” he said. “And the city has taken the position that the appropriate measurement is from the property line of the school to the property line of the building, not to my client’s actual unit within the building.”

      Tousaw argued that the actual distance between LotusLand and the school is 305 metres, not 220 metres, as the city claims.

      He also took issue with the city measuring distances as the crow flies, as opposed to as a person walks down the street.

      “People don’t fly, they walk,” Tousaw said.

      The dispensaries appearing before the variance board have been denied permit applications for contravening the city’s new bylaws for marijuana businesses. Most of them were disqualified from the regulatory process for operating within the 300-metre buffer zones described above.

      If a dispensary’s appeal is denied by the variance board, Toma said, they can file another development-permit application for an alternative location. However, as previously reported by the Straight, there aren’t actually that many locations that fall on the right side of the city’s bylaw requirements. Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang has estimated that once the dust settles on the regulatory process, the total number of dispensaries operating in Vancouver might not be more than 20, down from an estimated 100 today.

      So far, the variance board has heard seven dispensary appeals and rejected six of them.

      LotusLand Cannabis Society was the seventh. Its March 2 appeal was adjourned to allow for additional measurements to be taken. It’s scheduled to go back before the board on July 27.

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