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Pot dispensary buffer zone in Victoria doubles, number of shops could be cut in half

Neighbourhood input pushes councillors to extend distance between shops to 400 metres
Marijuana dispensaries in Victoria face more stringent criteria for rezoning, after city councillors voted Thursday to extend the buffer zone between shops to 400 metres from the current 200 metres. The move is expected to thin out the number of shops operating within city limits. Don Denton/Black Press

A move to extend the buffer zone between cannabis retailers in the City of Victoria from 200 to 400 metres is expected to effectively halve the number of operations currently in place.

Council sitting as committee of the whole Thursday voted 7-2 on a motion to extend the distance between shops. It will form part of the criteria for retailers applying for a rezoning as part of their continued operation.

“What the public sees now is not what we’re going to have [in future],” said Mayor Lisa Helps following the meeting. She called the change a “common-sense approach” that will help ensure there is no over-saturation of dispensaries in one neighbourhood.

Currently, many of the city’s 30-plus dispensaries are located within 200 metres of another shop, Helps said.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe collaborated on the motion with Coun. Margaret Lucas. Thornton-Joe said the biggest concern they heard in past months from residents and other affected parties was not so much the distance between shops, but the sheer number operating in the city.

The move to extend the buffer came in response mostly to input from the North Park and downtown residents associations, which were said to be the only resident groups to provide written input and recommendations to the city on further changing its policy around dispensaries.

The two-part motion also included the ability for council to make exceptions to the 400-metre rule based on case-by-case circumstances. The existing cannabis retailer rezoning policy, put in place in anticipation of the federal decriminalization of marijuana, went to public hearing earlier this year, but that proceeding was relatively sparsely attended.

Coun. Ben Isitt pointed out at Thursday’s meeting that many neighbourhood associations chose not to participate in the process, feeling that it didn’t make sense for the city to create policy before federal regulations came down.

Councillors also heard from city staff on enforcement issues. While only two dispensaries have so far been granted the rezoning to operate within current city bylaws, all but four or five have begun the rezoning process. Some have been handed the $1,000 a day fine for non-compliance and encouraged to apply for a rezoning and a business licence.

It remains to be seen whether some dispensaries will continue to operate even if they are rejected for rezonings given the new buffer zone. Helps acknowledged that enforcement may likely be one of the next challenges the City has in this longstanding issue.