Vancouver continues dispensary licensing ahead of legalization

The City of Vancouver says they intend to keep moving forward with their dispensary licensing program while the province sorts out rules for retail recreational cannabis stores

The City of Vancouver says they intend to keep moving forward with their dispensary licensing program while the province sorts out rules for retail recreational cannabis stores.

A representative for the city says Vancouver has no intentions of pausing their Medical Marijuana Related Use (MMRU) licensing program, saying they are still waiting to hear from the province on what cannabis distribution will look like in BC.

“Until the provincial government teams are in a position to reach out to the City and work on developing a distribution framework, our current regulatory framework is in place,” says Jag Sandhu, a communications coordinator for the city.

Sandhu says Vancouver hopes to work with the province on their plans for legal cannabis distribution and sales, but in the meantime will keep utilizing their licensing program to manage dispensaries and keep them away from kids and ‘vulnerable populations.’

“The City of Vancouver looks forward to working with the provincial government on the legal and regulatory framework for marijuana in BC and we’ve provided information on our existing model,” says Sandhu. “Until the federal and provincial frameworks are in place, the City will continue to operate the MMRU program, which uses both land use and licensing tools to set rules around dispensary distancing, concentration, and limited proximity to youth and vulnerable populations.”

British Columbia’s public consultation process around how to handle legalization came to a close on Nov. 1, with nearly 50,000 submissions and hundreds of submissions from stakeholders like municipalities, cannabis advocates, police associations, schools, doctors and many more.

Vancouver’s submission says the city supports municipalities having control on the location and size of any cannabis stores through various land use bylaws and a mix of public and private retail systems similar to how alcohol is regulated in BC. The city also said that it does not support selling cannabis alongside alcohol, a possibility the province says they are still open to.

Vancouver City Council passed regulations in June 2015 to begin licensing medical cannabis dispensaries and has issued 12 business licenses since then, out of an original 176 applicants. Dozens more are working their way through the licensing regime, and another 60 or so are listed as operating outside the city’s rules and are subject to enforcement.

The future of the MMRU system—which was essentially created as a stopgap to manage the rapid proliferation of over 200 illegal dispensaries by late 2014—is still unknown. The city does not allow non medical cannabis retail under their licensing regime, although a few non-medical stores openly operate in the city. Whether or not those licensed as businesses under the medical dispensaries regulations will be allowed to sell legal cannabis under a fully legal non medical system is unknown, but Sandhu says he expects these land use bylaws will fit into whatever the province’s rules end up being.

“Land use and licensing are municipal tools that we expect will continue to support or complement the federal and provincial frameworks,” says Sandhu. “We also expect that our local enforcement tools will be bolstered by provincial and federal codes and enforcement efforts.”

The city’s enforcement tools against the more than 60 dispensaries operating outside the regulations have been ticketing and court injunctions. Ticketing has been relatively ineffective, with over $1 million dollars in fines issued but less than $200,000 collected as of last August. Many business owners say they see the fines as a cost of doing business.

As for injunctions, the city has filed over 50 to date but will be waiting until at least some time late next year for them to resolve. It’s unclear what additional enforcement efforts from the province and federal government could do to aid the city. Sindhu says the city will continue to enforce their rules while they wait to hear from the province.

“We are continuing our enforcement efforts against those MMRU operators who are choosing to not comply with the regulatory framework.”

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.

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