Vancouver loses to Kimberley in pot shop licence race

Southeastern B.C. town believed to be first in Canada to issue licence to illegal marijuana dispensary

For almost a year now, the City of Vancouver has said that when it eventually issues a business licence to an illegal marijuana dispensary, it will be the first municipality in Canada to do so.

That history, according to city officials, could be made as early as the spring.

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Except the city has either forgotten or wasn’t aware what occurred in Kimberley last summer: the small southeastern B.C. town’s council unanimously agreed to give Tamarack Dispensaries a business licence.

The roadside pot shop, which is located in a commercial area on the highway into Kimberley, has operated since July.  And as far as Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick knows, it’s the only dispensary in Canada with a licence.

“When council made the decision, our intent wasn’t to be controversial, our intent wasn’t to be first at anything,” McCormick told the Courier by telephone this week. “What we were doing was supporting a local entrepreneur in a venture that had a market – and a market that wasn’t being well served otherwise.”

But McCormick, who is aware of Vancouver’s efforts to bring some control to the growing pot shop industry in the city, was quick to point out the $100 licence granted to Tamarack is not tied to regulations like those drawn up in Vancouver. Those regulations include a dispensary not being within 300 metres of a school, criminal record checks for operators and employees, signing a “good neighbour” agreement and paying an annual licence fee of $30,000 for a retail outlet and $1,000 for a so-called compassion club.

“I can appreciate why Vancouver has gone down the regulatory road,” said the mayor, recognizing that Vancouver has up to 100 illegal pot shops. “In similar circumstances, we may have done the same thing. But ours was a very clean environment where one entrepreneur came to the table with this particular business and we issued the licence.”

That said, McCormick noted Tamarack’s owners – Tamara and Rod Duggan -- weren’t simply given a business licence, as if they were operating a café. Initially, the Duggans’ request for a licence was rejected because Kimberley’s chief administration officer ruled the dispensary contravened federal laws.

The Duggans then argued their case before council, which has the authority to amend its bylaws. And that’s what council did, said McCormick, adding “we just wanted to keep it really simple. So anybody else coming and wanting to get a business licence is going to have to go through exactly the same process. They just can’t go to city hall and get a business licence.”

The mayor said he has received no complaints about the dispensary in the town of 7,600 people. The only feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” he added but acknowledged the Duggans’ business could be shut down at any time because of its contravention of Canada’s drug laws.

RCMP Cpl. Chris Newel, who is in charge of the Kimberley detachment, said via email that enforcement priorities are set in consultation with “local government, partners and citizens of the community.” Newel said businesses operating in contravention of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and Health Canada regulations may be subject to investigation and criminal charges – a point made to the City of Kimberley and city council.

“They were made aware there is no legal mechanism in Canada which allows for medicinal marihuana dispensaries to sell marihuana to the public, regardless of whether or not the individuals have licences to possess marihuana,” he wrote. “The RCMP is monitoring the business and liaises regularly with local government. To date, there has been no concerns expressed to the local RCMP detachment from individuals or other businesses.”

Tamara Duggan said she was up front with the RCMP about the nature of her business before requesting a licence. The inspiration to open the dispensary, she said, is connected to an experience her husband had at the Vancouver Pain Management dispensary on Commercial Drive.

After suffering a serious leg injury in a workplace accident in 2011, Rod visited the Vancouver dispensary and bought some marijuana-infused product to treat his pain. At the time, doctors had taken him off painkillers to recover from several surgeries.

“It was the first time he tried marijuana edibles, and it was amazing,” she said. “I, who had never really felt one way or the other about medical marijuana, became a convert instantly when I saw how it affected him.”

Duggan said she has 300 members who visit her dispensary, which sells various strains of marijuana, edibles, tinctures and oils. All members are required to have a doctor’s certificate, provide identification and must be an adult. She wouldn’t say where she gets her products but said it is of the highest quality and tested in independent laboratories.

“Most people I talk to are very, very happy that the service is here,” she said, noting the next nearest dispensary is in Nelson, about a four-hour drive.

The Courier told Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang that Kimberley is believed to be the first municipality in Canada to issue a business licence to a dispensary. Jang said he wasn’t aware of Kimberley council’s decision.

“That may be, but it doesn’t really matter to me whether we’re first or second,” he said. “What’s important is, as far as I know, that we’re the first municipality in Canada to have a proper set of bylaws to manage dispensaries – an actual full category to manage this. We have actual regulations tied to health principles that nobody has ever done before.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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