VANCOUVER — The City of Vancouver has become the first in Canada to regulate illegal marijuana dispensaries, despite strong warnings from the federal government.
In a eight to three vote, councillors approved imposing a $30,000 licensing fee, requiring stores to be located 300 metres from schools, community centres and each other, and banning shops from certain areas.
But in an unexpected move, council voted to create a two-tiered licensing system, allowing non-profit compassion clubs to pay a fee of just $1,000.
The city also made changes to its proposed points system that was meant to help weed out bad pot shops that are connected to gang activity or sell to kids.
Under the new regulations, stores that are not compassion clubs will receive 10 demerit points immediately, as a way to promote the non-profit model.
Coun. Kerry Jang told council that compassion clubs are preferable because they help people transition from marijuana to other medicine if possible. He suggested the clubs could funnel the money saved from paying a lower fee towards the creation of addiction programs.
The city also decided to immediately regulate four clubs: the Green Cross Society, the Eden Medicinal Society, the British Columbia Compassion Club Society and The Dispensary.
The decision comes after four days of public hearings that drew numerous speakers, many of whom complained about a proposed ban on edible products such as brownies and cookies.
But the city held firm on that part of the plan, deciding that the treats appeal to children, that it’s difficult to control their contents and patients can buy marijuana oil to make their own edibles.
Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose had warned the city and police that over-the-counter sales of marijuana is illegal in Canada and she expects them to uphold the law.
But the city has blamed the federal government’s restrictive medical marijuana laws for the rise of pot dispensaries in Vancouver — from 20 to 94 over the last three years.
City manager Penny Ballem has said the goal of regulation is to reduce exposure to youth and protect public health, while ensuring access for those who need medical marijuana.
Under the new regulations, dispensaries must apply for a licence and face a review that would rank them based on factors including the number of complaints and police incidents.
Where two nearby shops have the same ranking, a lottery would decide which one gets to stay.
Many dispensaries will be forced to move, including all those located in the troubled Downtown Eastside and Granville Street neighbourhoods as well as those located on Pender Street.
Vancouver’s oldest dispensary, the B.C. Compassion Club, which is located on Commercial Drive across the street from an elementary school, will be allowed to stay.