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Vancouver council votes to slash sky-high fees for cannabis retailers

Last Updated Feb 18, 2021 at 9:22 pm PST

FILE -- File photo: In this Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 photo, a customer sniffs a display sample of marijuana, in a tamper-proof container secured with a cable, sold at Evergreen Cannabis, a marijuana retail shop, in Vancouver, B.C. One year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, hundreds of legal pot shops have sprung up. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Summary

At $34,000, the licensing fee in Vancouver is the highest in Canada

City council has directed staff to come back with a recommendation for substantially slashed annual fees

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A city councillor is hopeful this is the last year cannabis retailers in Vancouver will pay the highest licensing fees in the country.

A motion passed Thursday is the first step in slashing the $34,000 annual fee — which is nearly ten times what liquor stores pay.

Coun. Rebecca Bligh says the move is meant to help licensed retailers thrive.

“It was quite clear that there’s a growing concern that Vancouver’s market is actually growing, but in the illegal market,” Bligh says.

“Can we make it a more fair and equitable start for licensed cannabis retailers by lowering that fee significantly? I mean when you think about $34,000, it’s a full-time person’s salary for a year.”

The sky-high fee is a relic of the pre-legalization era. It was introduced in 2015 for medical marijuana dispensaries.

“This fee just remained the same, even though the playing field had changed dramatically,” Bligh notes.

Not only was the fee out-of-step with other businesses within Vancouver — it is not consistent with what other municipalities in B.C. charge, according to Bligh who says fees are under $1,000 in other cities.

“We’re the highest, by far in the country, but even in our own province there’s a ton of room for improvement,” she says.

RELATED: Sky-high licensing fees for Vancouver retail pot shops up for debate

As for where the money goes, Bligh says a lot of it goes toward cracking down on the unregulated market.

“Well over half of the revenue from the fees is around enforcement, and it’s actually enforcement of the illegal market. So you’ve got legal shops that are struggling to open with an exorbitantly high fee, then the justification of the fee is that it’s a cost-recovery model. But then the revenue is being spent on enforcement of the illegal shops. So, you can imagine the level of frustration with that dynamic,” she says.

City staff have been directed to come back with a recommendation before licenses need to be renewed again on Dec. 31, 2021.

Bligh hopes they will come back with something similar to liquor stores, which pay an annual fee of $429.

“We’ve known how to manage liquor retail in our cities much longer than we’ve known how to manage cannabis. I think the ultimate goal is to get the fee in line with liquor retail, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Currently, there are 36 licensed cannabis retailers in the city, with another four ‘coming soon.’