Vancouver’s new regulatory framework for marijuana businesses has been slow to put a dent in the number of dispensaries operating in the city.
When council adopted the bylaws in June 2015, there were an estimated 115 storefronts selling cannabis in Vancouver. According to data supplied by the city on August 23, that number has been reduced, but only by about 30, to 84.
In a telephone interview, Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases, suggested that the city is fighting an uphill battle.
“You can legislate,” he told the Straight. “But, really, at the end of the day, the law of supply and demand is going to trump. There is a need and a desire to have these dispensaries.”
Tousaw, however, emphasized that he gives credit to the city for what he described as a measured response.
“They could have dramatically reduced the number of dispensaries in Vancouver but they would have had to use some very strong and heavy-handed tactics,” he explained. “Instead, I think they have been fair in using the tools available to them without overusing those tools.”
Of those 84 stores still selling marijuana, 33 have a business licence or development permit, or are working their way through the application process. Those shops can, therefore, sell medicinal cannabis without contravening the city’s bylaws for marijuana businesses.
Fifty-one other cannabis dispensaries continue to operate despite the city having ordered them to close. Those businesses are subject to enforcement actions and can be issued a fine of $250 for each day they continue to sell marijuana.
Bylaw officers have issued 565 of those tickets since enforcement began on May 1. So far, 128 of them have been paid. The city has also filed 27 court injunctions ordering those illicit dispensaries to close.
Every marijuana storefront operating in Canada remains in contravention of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Despite the shops breaking the law, the Vancouver Police Department has repeatedly stated it does not deem dispensaries a priority for enforcement. Ottawa is in the process of legalizing recreational marijuana, but that legislation will not be tabled until the spring of 2017.