City council will decide Wednesday whether it will be the first municipality in Canada to go ahead with a staff proposal to regulate the growing number of illegal marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver.
After listening to more than 100 people over three nights and one day of public hearings, council will vote on a staff proposal that lays out a series of rules for pot shops that now includes a two-tiered licensing system and allows marijuana oils, tinctures and capsules to be sold.
The original draft of the proposal called for a $30,000 annual licensing fee for all 90-plus dispensaries and a ban on marijuana-infused goods such as cookies and brownies, commonly referred to as edibles in the industry.
Staff now proposes that legitimate non-profit “compassion clubs” pay a $1,000 licensing fee while other shops will be required to pay $30,000. The city hasn’t determined how many shops in the city are non-profits, although one speaker during the hearings estimated there were 19.
To qualify as a compassion club, the city has written a definition into the proposal with stringent requirements for the operator, including:
• A police information check for the applicant and staff.
• The business must be registered under the province’s Society Act.
• Have a membership with the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.
• Offer at least two health services such as traditional Chinese medicine and psychological counselling for 200 hours or more per month.
• Produce records to the city’s chief licence inspector regarding number of health care hours provided to members.
• Have a constitution and bylaws for its members.
• Implement a security plan.
Originally, staff called for a ban on edibles and recommended only marijuana oil be sold. Staff now recommends tinctures and capsules be included in the new bylaws and is expected to explain the amendment at Wednesday’s council meeting.
What council heard Monday night from the last round of speakers, and what became a theme during the hearings, is many people called for council to reject staff's recommendation to ban edibles and reduce the $30,000 fee.
"We’re not being able to sell edibles, which is really harsh,” said Ajia Moon, a medical marijuana user and co-founder of a "mail-order only" dispensary called Three Happy Cats. “Many patients can’t smoke their medicine. In some cases, they suffer from asthma or other ailments that prevent them from lighting up, per se, and they require some sort of edible product and, in some cases, a topical product.”
Moon pointed out the Supreme Court of Canada ruled two weeks ago that all forms of marijuana are allowed to be consumed and that prohibiting the use of edibles violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On the day of that decision, the city issued a statement on the ruling and reiterated its position held by Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, that only marijuana oil would be allowed for sale.
The statement said the sale of oils would allow customers to create their own edibles and the city’s proposed regulations would not compromise a person’s right to access edible medical marijuana. It’s unclear what moved staff to now include tinctures and capsules in its proposal.
Of the more than 100 people who spoke to council during the hearings, about a half dozen said they were against the regulations. Many were generally in support of some form of regulations, although complained about the fees, the ban on edibles and not allowing a dispensary within 300 metres of a school, community centre or facility frequented by children.
Patricia Barnes of the Hastings North Business Improvement Association and Claudia Laroye of the Marpole Business Improvement Association told council Monday night they were worried about the effect dispensaries were having in their communities and on other legitimate businesses.
Barnes said she knows two women who “sunk all their life-savings” into a natural health food store and are now neighbours to two pot shops. She said their store smells of marijuana.
“They’re losing customers, they’re watching their life-savings go away,” she said. “You, as the City of Vancouver, need to do something about this. We need to protect those businesses that are operating out there now legally, obeying all federal law, obeying all provincial law, obeying all city bylaws.”
Vision Coun. Heather Deal asked Laroye “if the proper controls were in place, do you think there would be room in your BIA for one or two properly managed dispensaries for people who live in the neighbourhood?”
Laroye: “They key to that is the word ‘properly managed’ and within the parameters of the extensive regulatory regime that you’re looking at setting up.”