Vancouver cannabis industry booming despite pushback

Photo by Analyn Cuarto
Photo by Analyn Cuarto

City continues to fine dispensaries leading up to legalization

By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor

This April, the federal government will begin compiling a bill that will lead to the legalization of marijuana in Canada. Yet despite impending legalization, major Canadian cities have continued to discourage dispensaries from staying open. In Toronto and Montreal, police raids have been used in attempts to curb the growing number of dispensaries in their respective cities.

The Vancouver approach is much different. Rather than resort to using police officers, Vancouver is attempting to control the dispensaries with fines, and have been doing so since June 24, 2016. It was then that Vancouver set out new bylaws surrounding the operations of dispensaries in the city, with some of the biggest requirements making dispensaries be located 300 metres away from a school, community centre, or centre that serves vulnerable youth; and pay a $30,000 business licensing fee, with the exception of compassion clubs, who only pay a $1,000 fee.

Under the June 2016 bylaws, most dispensaries in the city should have closed. They were allowed to appeal their prescribed closure in August 2016, but the municipal government refused 140 out of the 176 business applications they received from dispensaries. Under these circumstances, the unapproved dispensaries would have six months to cease operations.

However, a majority of the businesses opted to remain open and to instead either pay the heavy fines given to them by the city, or fight them. The city has distributed 1,001 tickets to the dispensaries that violate the bylaws, with a quarter of them being paid.

“I’d be happy to spend more money fighting those fines than just paying them, just kind of on principle,” Dana Larsen, who owns a number of dispensaries in Vancouver, said to CBC. “Because this city is full of schools and community centres. It really limits how many dispensaries can be in the city.”

Meanwhile, the city has remained resilient against the dispensaries, and increased its $250 fine to $1,000 in December 2016.

“Right now, less than a quarter of those fines are actually being paid. And now we’re spending staff time—and time is money—having our staff go through [the] process of putting those outstanding tickets in collections,” councillor Melissa De Genova, who believes that the city should be enforcing stronger rules on the dispensaries, said to CBC.

It remains questionable whether or not the city will take more drastic measures, such as emulating Toronto and Montreal’s police raids, given the probability of federal legalization within the next six months. However, it is clear that unapproved dispensaries will continue to operate against the city’s wishes.