One year after the first cannabis dispensary was licensed in Vancouver, Councillor Kerry Jang says the City’s pot shop bylaw has been successful.
The bylaw, imposing location and permit requirements on any marijuana dispensary wishing to operate in Vancouver, was passed in June 2015.
Vancouver’s pot shops were invited to begin applying for licensing by August 21 of that year–but it took until May 2016 before the first licence was issued.
Two years after the bylaw was passed, and one year since the first licence was issued, only nine more marijuana dispensaries have been granted business licences.
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Jang told Daily Hive this is due to the lengthy process applicants must go through, but overall, he thinks it’s worked really well.
“I’ve gone to visit a couple of the licensed pot shops, they’re beautiful!” said Jang.
“They fit into neighbourhoods, they’re discreet, they’re very clear what they are, they don’t let kids in.
“And I have not yet received a single complaint about any of the ones we’ve licensed.”
51 pot shops still violating bylaw
Under the City bylaw, dispensaries must be in commercial zones, at least 300 m from schools, community centres, neighbourhood houses and other pot shops.
They must then apply for a development permit, and if successful, apply for a business licence, at a cost of $30,000 for retail stores or $1,000 for compassion clubs.
Some 176 pot shop operators applied when invited back in 2015. Most were unsuccessful. Some never opened, some voluntarily closed.
Two years after the fight began, 51 pot shops remain open in violation of the bylaw, facing daily tickets and injunctions from the City.
While the City has recouped $125,000 in tickets issued, it is still owed more than half a million dollars by defiant pot shop owners.
Jang said he had no expectations when the process began, but the “Wild West” days of marijuana dispensaries doing what they want are over.
“There’s a place for marijuana in the city, and it will be used responsibly by people, and everybody can play by the same rules, which is only fair,” said Jang.
“Our current bylaw is there as a means of providing structure to an unstructured sector,” said Jang. “I think overall we’ve brought stability to the sector.”
Vancouver bylaw ‘informed’ Cannabis Act
Jang hopes that stability will only be boosted by the federal legalization of cannabis, coming down the line after Trudeau’s Liberals introduced the Cannabis Act in April this year.
“I anticipate it will actually help make the current City of Vancouver bylaws much more easily implemented and enforceable for all,” said Jang.
“What Vancouver pioneered a couple of years ago really has informed the federal government’s legislation to a large degree.”
Jang says he has spoken with Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice who led the taskforce that shaped the Cannabis Act.
“Clearly the anticipation of federal government is that they’re going to allow each province and city to decide what’s best for their own communities,” said Jang.
“I anticipate that really nothing will change all that much in the City of Vancouver. There might be some variation as to distancing or numbers, whatever the province decides.”
Nevertheless, enforcement is an issue–especially when there remains those 51 marijuana dispensaries open in violation of the City’s bylaws.
Court delays blamed for enforcement issues
Jang said one of the reasons for that is delays in the court system, which mean the 27 injunctions filed by the City have not yet been granted court time.
He’s hoping the legalization of cannabis federally will speed this process up, by giving the province more powers to allow enforcement.
“If you really want to have a workable set of laws, you’re going to have to make sure the injunctions are heard quickly and efficiently,” said Jang.
“So you can seek an injunction, provide more data sharing, so we’ll know who has licences, who’s growing, who’s retailing, and all that kind of stuff.”
The main thing for the City, said Jang, is that the tax revenues from marijuana sales will be used for enforcement, prevention and education programs.
“We said to the federal and provincial governments, point blank, we will not be raising property tax to pay for this,” said Jang.
“That enforcement, however it rolls out, or whatever you want to do with marijuana, must come out of the marijuana tax dollars.”
Public health rules ‘largely met’
In the end, Jang says, the City introduced the bylaw because the ideological “drugs are bad” approach of the federal Conservative government of the time wasn’t working.
“Marijuana should not be sold to children or minors, like with alcohol or tobacco or pornography,” said Jang.
“The public health rules, that we set out, which are the underpinning of all of this, are largely being met.”
Even the pot shops defiantly open despite not having a business licence are helping the City achieve their public health goals, said Jang.
“Even the ones we see the most complaints about, they have big signs up now saying, ‘If you’re under 19 you’re not allowed in,'” said Jang.
Jang said he’s heard from many pot shop owners that they applied for business licensing under the City of Vancouver for fear of what may happen in future.
“They said, ‘If we’ve been in violation of a city bylaw on marijuana, we might not be allowed to apply, so we don’t want to take that chance.’
“They’re being good businesspeople,” said Jang. “To those guys, I give you all my support to open a good, responsible pot shop.”