Pot shops start process to comply with new city bylaws

The City of Victoria has approved the Cannabis-Related Business Regulation Bylaw that includes a variety of rules.

The City of Victoria has approved the Cannabis-Related Business Regulation Bylaw that includes a variety of rules governing the location, allowable clientele, and hours of operation for medical marijuana dispensaries. The rules exist as pre-conditions for both the zoning required for these operations and their business licence prerequisites.

The 38 storefront operators currently known to exist in Victoria may now only operate if their premises are re-zoned for the purpose and obtain a specific business licence which will be tied to a series of operational requirements to safeguard the safety of children and respect the surrounding community.

Ashley Barclay, the manager of Pineapple Express Dispensary in Victoria West, feels the bylaw is mostly reasonable in its approach.

“We’ve already started the re-zoning process by getting the signatures of neighbouring businesses and the community at large,” she said. “In fact, for a lot of them we didn’t even have to approach them; they came into us and offered up their support. We haven’t seen any pushback on us being here at all.”

Coun. Ben Isitt explained how the system in place before was just not working.

“These dispensaries were opening up across the city and the public communicated to us that we needed a way to prevent the ad-hoc way things were going,” explained Isitt, adding the regulations came about after several public hearings where a broad spectrum of positions were presented.

He noted there were no cannabis dispensary operators who spoke against the bylaw at the last meeting (Sept. 8), and that council heard what he estimated at 98 per cent approval of the bylaw as written.

But one provision of the bylaw may be problematic for a few of the existing marijuana dispensaries. It states businesses must not be located within 200 metres of a school, child care facility, or another marijuana dispensary. The definition of child care facility is the root of the problem for some.

“A few cannabis dispensaries are located near child-centred businesses which are not schools or day cares but still disqualify the locations for dispensaries,” said Barclay.

“That could be very tough. These other businesses were never considered to be a problem when the dispensaries opened their door, but now they are. Luckily, we don’t have that problem.”

On a positive note, Barclay noted the bylaw would at least prevent the clustering of dispensaries, all operating in competition with one another.

“”With the rate these dispensaries were opening, at least this means we won’t have a competing shop opening up next door to us.”

Victoria’s action has taken place at a time when the entire legal approach to marijuana consumption is under review.

On April 20, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced government plans to introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 legalizing marijuana use in Canada. In the interim, the possession of marijuana for recreational use has not been decriminalized and the offence remains illegal. If charged and convicted, a first offence can result in a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, or both.

“It leaves us walking a legal tightrope right now,” said Aaron, the owner of Pineapple Express (who requested his last name not be published). “At least with this bylaw in place, it gives us some level of official recognition.”

While the sale of cannabis at the shops remains technically illegal according to federal law, yet, again, a tacit acceptance of the shops has been adopted at all levels of government and law enforcement.

“My understanding is simple possession of marijuana is a pretty low priority for VicPD,” said Isitt. “I’ve been told the Crown (prosecutor) isn’t even approving charges for cases of possession for personal use.”

He added his belief the bylaw has struck a reasonable balance between safeguarding the safety and well-being of the citizens of Victoria while avoiding a heavy-handed approach to what may very soon be a completely legal activity.

“By doing it this way we have ensured a reasonable access (to medical marijuana) in a safe way to the public. We’ve allowed a way for its sale without pushing it underground where organized crime takes over the sale and distribution,” said Isitt.