As part of city of Vancouver plan to license medical marijuana related businesses, which started in 2015, unlicensed dispensaries were given until the end of April 2016 to close up shop. The city has stated there are several enforcement options they will take to ensure unlicensed dispensaries adhere to the guidelines, starting with bylaw fines of $250 a day and, if necessary, a court injunction against these businesses.
This approach is not without precedent, and one notable example has some interesting parallels for the current cannabis market.
In 2009 a business owner purchased a video rental store at 701 Kingsway and turned it into an adult entertainment shop, called the Fantasy Factory, violating the city's zoning bylaws. In early 2010 a city inspector concluded the business did not have the proper development permit under Vancouver city bylaws for so-called 'sex shops'.
He applied for a permit, but the city refused, citing proximity to a park and opposition from neighbours. By late 2010 the city had ordered the owner to close, with the owner, Anthony Perry, disputing the order via the Board of Variance. City guidelines say adult retail stores should not be within 305 metres of any parks. Fantasy Factory was 55 metres too close to Robson Park.
After the Variance appeal, Vancouver city council decided to proceed with a court injunction. By mid 2012, the case was in BC Supreme Court where Perry claimed the city's actions against his business were discriminatory, pointing out there were at least 17 other stores, including London Drugs, that were technically operating as 'sex shops' without relevant zoning and licensing.
In response, the then city director of licences and inspections, Will Johnston, said city staff to meet with the businesses in question and, if necessary, would use similar measures to bring hem into compliance with the regulations, as well.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith, who heard the case, ruled that he did not find the city was engaging in discriminatory behaviour, calling the city’s statement to Perry “clear and unambiguous”. He ordered the store to close within 90 days.
At the time, Perry owned seven other Fantasy Factory sex stores in the city that the city found no bylaw infractions against. The store was finally closed a few months later.
Current Vancouver City Director, of Licensing, Property Use Inspections and Animal Services at City of Vancouver, Andreea Toma, has issued similar statements in regard to unlicensed Vancouver dispensaries.
“There’s nothing to stop us from taking all of the businesses that need to be closed by the end of April and going to injunction and imposing fines through the court system, said Toma earlier this year. "No business in the City of Vancouver should be operating without a business license. The six month term was really just to bring the industry along.”
In early April of this year, Vancouver began issuing $250 bylaw fines against 3 dispensaries who had recently opened and not applied for a business license with the city. Nearby, Abbottsford recently employed a similar court injunction against an unlicensed dispensary in their city limit.
The City of Chilliwack BC began levying $1,000 daily fines against WeeMedical, a dispensary, when it opened in March. They also issued $500 daily fines to each of the 2 landlords. The RCMP has raided the business twice, with the dispensary re-opening each time. It is now open, but not selling cannabis.
Currently, only 8 dispensaries have received a development permit with the city, the final step before a business licence. Another 12 have received a 'conditional permit', the step prior to a development permit. 176 dispensaries initially applied. 45 are still awaiting Variance Board hearings schedule until mid November. City Councillor Kerry Jang recently said that even those awaiting a variance hearing will have to close or be subject to fines and possible court or police enforcement.
“The only people who are okay are those who are actually in the development permit stage or have been given an exemption by the board of variance," said Jang. "People who are waiting for their board of variance hearing, they will have to shut in the meantime.”
Featured image via thethunderbird.ca