Cloud Nine dispensary on Fort Street is one of a handful of cannabis retailers that have successfully completed rezoning with the City of Victoria and is in the process of being granted a business licence. It is in the minority of the 35 or so shops operating in the city, which have been subject to a separate city bylaw since September 2016. A staff report to be discussed by city councillors this week indicates that cannabis-related operations have been fined a total of $24,000 for non-compliance, with the majority of tickets issued for operating without a business licence. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Enforcement of Victoria’s cannabis bylaws taking more city staff time than expected

Councillor hopes province, feds take on enforcement role in 2018

Enforcement of existing city bylaws is no walk in the park when it comes to marijuana dispensaries, especially given the lack of federal legislation or even guidance on the matter.

Victoria councillors will hear more this Thursday from city staff working in the field, when committee of the whole discusses an enforcement progress report relating to cannabis-related businesses. In total, $24,000 in fines have so far been handed out to dispensaries for non-compliance, $15,000 of which – 15 fines of $1,000 – has been levied under the city’s cannabis bylaw for operating without a valid business licence.

“I don’t think anybody thought it would take as long as it has to get these [federal] policies in place,” said Coun. Margaret Lucas, whose co-sponsored motion to extend the minimum distance between dispensaries to 400 metres, from the previous 200 was passed by council July 6.

“I think a lot of businesses tried to jump the gun to get in first. They just popped up everywhere, in anticipation of the federal government coming down with their policies.”

By way of comparison, Lucas reiterated her experience with changes to the rules and location criteria for liquor retail stores. Municipal input and knowledge of day-to-day operations helped shape the eventual provincial regulations.

The second-most frequent cannabis bylaw infraction listed in the report, with eight $500 tickets issued, was for allowing consumption of product on the premises, while four operators were ticketed $250 under the city’s sign bylaw for not obtaining a permit for their sign.

The report also states that since the city adopted its cannabis bylaw, the time taken by staff to enforce it has exceeded the allotted 35 hours a week. Once all cannabis retailers have gone through the rezoning process, which is expected to cut in half the number that are operating, staff predict the enforcement hours will also fall to within the 35 hours.

Currently only four retailers have received rezoning approval, although only one has yet to receive a business licence. Six applications are ready to go to public hearing and another 23 are working their way through the process.

“I think the biggest thing, is that compliance [enforcement] has to be given to another level,” Lucas said of the long-term picture. “That is not under the purview of the municipality. We don’t have the financial capacity, when this eventually comes down, to be hiring bylaw officers to be overseeing it. It needs to be administered and overseen by inspectors at the provincial or federal level.”

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