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New zoning rules proposed for Vancouver medical marijuana dispensaries

Last Updated Aug 19, 2015 at 12:25 pm PDT

(iStock Photo)

The city has worked with business improvement groups, the school board, the health authority and industry players.

The proposal will go before city council next week.

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The City of Vancouver says it’s time to bring in zoning rules for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Pot activists are glad to see that the municipality is making its own framework in the absence of any clear guidance from the federal government.

Vancouver has seen a 100 per cent increase in the number of marijuana-related businesses in the last two years. So, the city feels it’s time to regulate the sector as the federal government hasn’t provided any clear direction.

The rules are meant to strike a balance between the need of patients to have access to marijuana and the needs of the community. It’s worked with business improvement groups, the school board, the health authority and industry players.

The city is proposing that:
– marijuana-related businesses be at least 300m away from schools, community centres, neighbourhood houses and other marijuana related businesses
– operators sign a “Good Neighbour Agreement”
– owners pay an annual $30,000 licencing fee
– owners submit a development permit and notify the community
– marijuana related businesses only operate in commercially zoned areas

Activist Jodie Emery says dispensary owners will likely feel safer knowing they’re somewhat out of the grey-area limbo they’ve been in. She says Vancouver is following the example of states like Washington by not waiting for federal policy to change. “Having the new regulations in place will show the federal government and the provincial government that it’s time to take medical dispensaries seriously.”

The $30,000 annual licencing fee is higher than it is for most other businesses, but Emery feels the city should be compensated. “It’s obvious marijuana makes a lot of money because it’s illegal and while the dispensary operators are selling it, they are creating a lot of jobs and revenue and even taxes. So, the city government obviously wants to get a share of that because they feel it’s necessary to cover the costs of creating these new regulations and enforcing them.”

Don Briere owner of about a dozen Weeds, Glass and Gifts feels charging $30,000 is unfair. With other businesses like restaurants, bars, and even casinos paying a maximum of $12,000 for a license, he feels his industry is being discriminated against. “Whatever a neighbourhood pub is paying I’ll pay. I want to be treated equal. If they’re going to over price us then that’s not fair, that’s way out of line. We’re trying to be a part of the community, don’t tax us out of existence.”

He believes the high cost may force some dispensaries to close sending buyers to get their weed in the underground market. “If they over price it and they put it too high it’s going to drive it right back to the black market and again we’re going to have our police forces running around with these gangs that are flushed with money because it’s so expensive to operate a business.”

He welcomes all the other aspects of the proposal such as keeping them away from schools and letting the community know ahead of time when a new store opens.

The proposal goes before city council next week.