UPDATE – Since this post was published, the city has provided us with updated figures and an estimate of the number of pot shops that will be forced to close. Check the update here.
At least 73% of Vancouver’s medical marijuana dispensaries will likely be forced to close after April 29, having failed to get the permits needed to operate under new bylaws.
Under new city rules, all dispensaries must be in commercial zones, at least 300 metres from schools, community centres, neighbourhood houses and other approved pot shops.
But according to city figures unearthed by Vancity Buzz, of 176 pot shops that applied, at least 129 have been rejected and will face fines and possible legal action if they stay open.
The city introduced the new rules in a bid to regulate the rapid spread of medical marijuana dispensaries across the city, even though they technically remain illegal under federal law.
Pot shops in Vancouver were invited to make preliminary applications to find out whether they met the city’s new zoning rules by August 21 last year.
Once they passed that stage, they then had to apply for a development permit, followed by a business licence at a cost of $30,000 for commercial enterprises or $1000 for compassion clubs.
Only a handful of pot shops have made it that far.
Here’s the situation as it stands:
(Note: Figures collated by Vancity Buzz in liaison with the City of Vancouver, up to date at the time of writing)
Two things worth noting for clarity – both of which are estimated to make up only a small proportion of applications, but for which figures were not available:
Finally, here’s a map from the City of Vancouver, showing the seven pot shops who have made it to the final stage of the process so far.
(Note – this map may be updated in future to show more pot shops, or successful business licences granted, if further dispensaries are approved.)
Andreea Toma, Chief Licence Inspector, told Vancity Buzz the city has not set aside any funding source for legal action they may need to take against the shops.
She said the $30,000 business licence fee was supposed to help provide dedicated resources for inspection and enforcement. But, she said, those fees need to be reviewed.
“Because we don’t have any money up front. You don’t actually pay the $30,000 until you’ve gone through the entire process, you’ve passed and that’s the last piece – you remit your payment, you get your business licence.”
No pot shops in Vancouver have paid the $30,000 fee yet.
Meanwhile, Toma admitted the city does not know what to expect after April 29.
“We’ve heard from some of the folks in the industry that they do want to play by rules, they want to be regulated,” she said.
“We gave them six months [from the time of rejection.] Now that time is up. There is no more leniency to be given. Everybody needs to be treated fairly across the board.”
Dori Dempster at The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary says both their locations have been ordered to close following rejection. They have appealed, but those hearings are months away.
“I think the bylaws were poorly thought out and just as poorly written,” Dempster said in an email. “The city has overstepped in many areas and implemented bylaws that are necessary to challenge and we will.”
“Closing our store would be a direct hardship to the members accessing their right to their choice of medicine.”
What will they do now?
“We keep showing up. We keep educating people about this plant and its many beneficial uses,” said Dempster.
“We continue stepping in for those who can’t step up for themselves. We keep pushing the boundaries until this drug war has gasped is final breath.”