City of Vancouver and dispensaries both wait for day in court

Many dispensaries are challenging the Board of Variance decisions and taking matters to the Provincial Court

The city of Vancouver began the process of filing injunctions against 27 unlicensed marijuana dispensaries in 2016. All of these injunctions are currently making their way through the BC Court, awaiting a court date.

The first 17 injunctions were filed by the city on May 31, 2016, with another ten filed in mid July. The city says it prioritized these 27 locations based on their “proximity to approved Medical Marijuana-Related Uses (MMRU) development permits, community feedback, and response to enforcement actions to date. Some of these locations are the source of regular noise and nuisance complaints or have been uncooperative with City inspection staff.”

The city has been issuing tickets to unlicensed dispensaries since April of 2016, when it began enforcement of its Medical Marijuana Related Use licensing regime (MMRU). Since then, the City has issued 1,243 tickets, with 302 paid as of Feb 15, 2016. 166 of those were issued since the city raised the fine from $250 to $1,000 late last year.

A list of all 27 business can be found at the bottom of this article.

No dates have yet been set. After the city files a petition or injunction to the court to shut down an unlicensed business, petitions and affidavits are filed and responded to while the court sets a date. It’s not uncommon for injunctions filed by the city to take months or even years to make their way through the court. In the meantime, these business are, for the most part, remaining open and risking additional tickets.

In a review of six of the 27 injunctions, the city’s argument is consistent: they say these businesses are operating without a business license, in contravention of Vancouver License Bylaw 4450, and that the Vancouver Charter authorizes the city to “commence a proceeding in the Supreme Court of British Columbia” to enforce its bylaws.

Each dispensary remains relatively consistent as well. The main argument made by each dispensary in our review is that the city has no jurisdiction or authority over the distribution of medical cannabis, usually also adding that Vancouver’s Medical Marijuana Related Use (MMRU) licensing regime effectively violates the Charter by impeding or limiting access to medical cannabis.

However, some other creative arguments were made, including one dispensary that pointed out the injunction was against the wrong address, and that they are currently operating at a different location down the street. Another dispensary noted that the city originally filed their petition under License Bylaw No. 3575, not License Bylaw 44350.

Dean Davison, one of three lawyers representing the majority of the dispensaries in question, says he and lawyers Kirk Tousaw and Robert Laurie are all working with the city to attempt to set one date to hear as many of the cases as possible at once to save time. He expects dates to be set in the "next few months." Davison represents Don Briere’s Weeds Glass and Gifts chain of dispensaries.

The basic response Davison and others are taking, he says, is that the city’s attempts to regulate dispensaries are unconstitutional as they limit court-supported access to medical cannabis.

“In our case we have challenged the bylaws as being unconstitutional for a number of reasons, the most useful argument being Section 7 under the Charter,” says Davison. “We take the position that medical marijuana dispensaries are allowing people to have medicine. Courts have ruled that people should have reasonable access. We say that the Vancouver bylaws unreasonably limit people’s access by shutting down dispensaries.”

In the meantime, Davison says he and his clients are waiting on the Federal Government to give further guidance on legalization and how that may impact the dispensaries he represents.

“It would be very efficient and I think good for all the parties involved if the Federal Government could come out with their specific laws or regime gearing with this type of issue (of the legality of) dispensaries, sooner rather than later. That would be probably a great savings and beneficial to all parties. Especially the end-users who are the ones paying the price for this limited access issue. There is a real need for them to have access to these strains and medicine.”

Robert Laurie is another lawyer representing several of the dispensaries the city is seeking to close, as well as some seeking to take action against the city’s Board of Variance for a rejection of their zoning appeal last year.

“We’ve put the city on notice of our intention to bring section 2, section 7, and section 15 under the charter. I really don’t think their injunction is going to get too far,” says Laurie.

In addition, Laurie says he has ‘five or six clients’ who have filed judicial reviews of their Board of Variance hearings, with another expected to be filed next week.

The Board of Variance has heard over 75 appeals over the past year from dispensaries that had their business license applications to the city rejected based on the city’s 300 m rule, preventing them from being within that distance to schools, public houses, parks, and other dispensaries.

As of publication, the Board has approved 28 appeals so far, rejecting another 37. The final scheduled Board of Variance meeting is February 22nd. Not all businesses feel they had a fair shot at arguing their case before the Board, so some have filed injunctions against the city as well.

One dispensary called MediCanna Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary, represented by cannabis lawyer Kirk Tousaw, opened a file against the city in court on July 4th of last year, arguing, among other things, that the Board of Variance’s ruling against their appeal was unfair, caused undue hardship, the loss of the $150,000 financial investment, decreased qualify of life and increased suffering for MediCanna’s members, decline in value of the premises which had been vacant for a lengthy period, decline in the overall character of the neighborhood as a result of the potential vacancy of the premises and termination of 15 employees who work for MediCanna at the premises.

Another, the Canadian Weed Cannabis Society of Vancouver (Weeds Glass and Gifts) filed against the city on July 11, represented by Davison. The business argues that the Board of Variance allowed the city to present surprise information they didn’t have a chance to respond to properly.

Laurie says his clients will be filing soon, as well, with one expected next week.

“We are in the process of bringing an action against the city of Vancouver and the Board of Variance, but that will be coming,” said Laurie. “I’ve got five or six different clients who have filed Board of Variance Judicial Reviews. We’ll be filing another one next week. We’ve got the chair of the BoV admitting bias, right on the record. So that will be helpful.”

“My clients are really just wanting to remain open until there is some degree of certainty, and until that comes they’re going to remain open in defiance in the face of the law as a form of civil disobedience,” Laurie told CKNW last year.

Chuck Abramov of the BC Pain Society had filed an affidavit against the city in April of last year, arguing the process was flawed, but discontinued the process in December. BC Pain had initially been represented by Laurie, as well.

Stay tuned to Lift for more information from this process as it unfolds

        Address                            Business Name

1       8180 Champlain Crescent   The Healing Tree

2       512 Beatty Street             Cannabis Culture / The Healing Tree

3       8640 Granville Street  Divine Ventures

4       1232 Burrard Street         Weeds Glass & Gifts

5       1108 Richards Street           Weeds Glass & Gifts

6       104 – 1807 Burrard Street   Weeds Glass & Gifts

7       405 Skeena Street            Weeds Glass & Gifts

8       1299 Kingsway                 Vancity Medicinals

9       6657 Main Street             Weeds Glass & Gifts

10     2580 Kingsway                 Weeds Glass & Gifts

11     6128 Fraser Street           Imedikate

12     2145 Kingsway                 Green Cross Society BC

13     3474 W. Broadway         Lotusland Cannabis Club

14     1092 Kingsway                 Health Lifestyle Dispensary

15     100 – 68 E. 2nd Avenue       Sea to Sky Dispensary & Lounge

16     2908 Commercial Drive      BC Pain Society

17     2918 W. 4th Avenue            Buddha’s Sister – House of Cannabis

18     725 Nelson Street            Pacific Educational Apparels Society

19     8265 Main Street             MMJ Canada Society

20     3187 Main Street             Lotusland Mount Pleasant Cannabis Society

21     2487 Kingsway                 Canna+Mart

22     1259 Kingsway                 Canna Farmacy Society Kingsway

23     8431 Granville Street           Erbachay

24     1181 Granville Street           Vancity Weed Dispensary Inc.

25     1167 Granville Street           Limelife

26     3450 E Hastings Street         S.W.E.D. Dispensary

27     68 E 2nd Avenue              Sea to Sky Alternative Healing Society

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