City gears up to crack down on pot shops

Time is up for marijuana dispensaries that haven't applied for a business license or rezoning

City gears up to crack down on pot shops

The time is up for marijuana dispensaries that have yet to apply for a business license or rezoning in order to continue operating in Victoria.

The city will now be launching legal proceedings for cannabis retailers who’ve failed to comply with the marijuana dispensary regulations that took effect in November and require businesses to obtain a $5,000 license and pass a $7,500 rezoning process to operate legally.

So far, 33 cannabis retailers have applied for a business license and 23 have applied for rezoning. Sixteen have yet to apply for anything.

“The fact that 16 haven’t applied at this point, it is a surprise…Most, if not all of the retailers in the city, were participating in the consultations and the feedback sessions,” said city clerk Chris Coates, noting it’s difficult to say what the enforcement will involve at this time.

“The city’s objective is to have them either become compliant or cease operations.”

City officials have been working with the industry to gain compliance with the regulations that require retailers to be 200 metres from schools and 200 metres from other permitted marijuana storefronts. A grace period of 60 days was provided to allow businesses to meet the requirements. Education and support was also provided during that time.

By the time December rolled around, the city was seeing a steady influx of applications. So far, four have gone to committee of the whole and one application has been tentatively scheduled for a public hearing April 13.

Coun. Geoff Young, however, is becoming unsure of the city’s general policy when it comes to the dispensaries.

During a recent rezoning application for a dispensary already operating on Cook Street, Young said he sees “real difficulties” with the policy, noting the bylaws don’t address a lot of important issues, such as quality of the products being sold and whether they’re contaminated.

“In some senses, I think we’re doing too much in terms of the zoning. In some senses, we’re not doing enough because we are in the process of approving and licensing operations which may or may not be selling safe products,” said Young, who hopes those issues will be addressed when the federal government comes out with regulations.

“I think that frankly this whole area needs to be left in the hands of the courts and the law enforcement processes to decide how this business is regulated during this interim period of expected legalization.”

During a recent visit to Victoria, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a tough stance on current marijuana regulations, reminding citizens the law remains the law until the framework is established to regulate and control the drug.

Police in other Island communities have shut dispensaries down, but so far no action has been taken in Victoria.

Acting police chief Del Manak said the dispensaries are assessed on a regular basis and will become a priority when officers receive information that organized crime is involved, if they’re dealing to youth or if it’s flaunted in officer’s faces that clients don’t need to have a medical need in order to purchase the drug. An officer regularly engages with and monitors the businesses to see whether they’re contributing to violent crime or seriously disrupting the surrounding community.