Board of Variance rejects 2, approves 1, asserts authority over process

Sixth Vancouver Board of Variance meeting on dispensaries ends in 1 variance, 2 rejections, and one extended until October.

Another round of dispensary Board of Variance appeals ended tonight with one approval, two denials and one extension, and some mild friction between the city's representative Phoebe Stewart and members of the board asserting their authority over the decision process.

The City of Vancouver is has normally been represented at the hearings by Martin Greer. Today they were represented by Phoebe Stewart, Project Coordinator at the City of Vancouver. The full board is composed of Gilbert Tan – Board Chair, Louis Ng – Board Secretary and FOI Officer, and Board Members Jag Dhillon, George Chow, Martha Welsh, and Namtez Sohal. 

This was the sixth of 16 scheduled hearings concluding in November. Business who applied for a Medical Marijuana Related License (MMRU) with the city of Vancouver and were rejected for being within.

First up was Canna Mart at 4893 Clarendon St. Their application to the city was initially rejected for being 178 m from a neighbouring school. The business is in a larger complex at the corner of Kingsway and Clarendon. Canna Mart has been in their location for 3 years, and have 800 members. While Welsh at one point did remind her fellow board members that the business had been there for 3 years with no complaint, the board voted unanimously to deny the appeal for a variance.

Next was Erbachay Health Centers Inc at 8425 Granville St. They asked for an extension, which was granted for October.

Third of the night was the Eastside Compassion Society at 2127 Kingsway, represented by Vance Steinberg. The business' license application was rejected by the city for being 257 m from a school. The business has only operated for one year, but Steinberg said another dispensary had operated in that location previously. The board rejected the appeal unanimously.

Last up for the evening was the Real Compassion Society at 151 E Hastings St., also represented by Vance Steinberg. Initial application to the city was rejected for being too close to the Carnegie Centre, a city-owned community centre in East Hastings. The board voted unanimously to approve the appeal.

At a meeting on May 4th, another dispensary who had been too close to Carnegie had their appeal approved. The Farm Dispensary at 369 Columbia St. The board unanimously approved their appeal on the condition they open up dialogue with a neighbouring Chinese cultural centre.

Prior to the bard's approval of the Real Compassion Society, Phoebe expressed concern that the business' variance approval would inconvenience the city because it would place them in a de-clustering process the city had already concluded. The Farm and the Real Compassion Society would both be within 300 m of each other.

Any dispensary who submitted an application and was within 300 m of another dispensary were placed in a de-clustering process, but businesses who had their application rejected never reached the de-clustering step. De-clustering is the first of three steps to achieving a license with the city.

Over the course of these first six meetings, the board has been increasingly vocal in asserting their authority over the decision making process and Stewart's objections tonight were met with board members Welsh and Dhillon strenuously defending their authority to make their own decision based on zoning and not the city's concerns with addressing their de-clustering problems.

Three warrants were reported executed to the Real Compassion Society between 2013 and 2015. If that is an issue, it will arise at a later stage in the city's licensing process. The city issues demerits for variances offences, including community complaints and police visits.

Out of 62 scheduled dispensary hearings set to run through 2016, the board has so far heard 25, accepted 8, rejected 14, and stayed 3 decisions until a later date. Dispensaries with a successful variance move on to step two in the city’s licensing process. Those that fail must close or face fines or court-enforced action. The city has begin issuing fines to some non compliant dispensaries.

-Based on notes from Jamie Shaw

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