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How Victoria plans to vet dozens of marijuana shops

The process of weeding out dozens of pot shops in Victoria could begin this week as the first two zoning applications for cannabis dispensaries come before city councillors for consideration.
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The statue of Sir John A. MacDonald outside Victoria City Hall

The process of weeding out dozens of pot shops in Victoria could begin this week as the first two zoning applications for cannabis dispensaries come before city councillors for consideration.

Making the applications are two dispensaries in the 500 block of Yates Street — one already in operation and one proposed. Under the city’s cannabis rezoning policies, storefront cannabis retailers must be at least 200 metres from each other, so one is bound to fail.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the city is essentially adopting a first-come, first-served policy.

“In the instance where there are two within proximity, I think that’s the fair way to do it,” Helps said.

“These two are within, basically, steps of each other. One got their application in first so we’ll look at that one first and, if that goes through, then I think the other one will be more difficult.”

The intent of the 200-metre policy is to prevent “an undesirable concentration” of storefront cannabis retailers, city staff say.

Council received an application from Trees, 546 Yates St., on Oct. 20, last year.

On Dec. 7, an application was received from Pure Releaf, for 510-512 Yates — less than half a block from the Trees outlet.

The city policy reads: “A storefront cannabis retailer should be at least 200 metres (in a straight line from closest lot line to closest lot line) from another lot where a storefront cannabis retailer is permitted, whether or not a storefront cannabis retailer is active or not. A reduced distance may be warranted in locations such as a large urban village, town centre or downtown.”

Alex Robb, Trees Dispensary community liaison, said the first-come, first-served approach makes sense. He also supports in general the 200-metre separation between outlets.

“I don’t think that it looks good to have dispensaries three doors down from one another right in the downtown,” he said.

“I think when the city put in that provision allowing for variance in heavily populated areas, they meant something like where the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Co-operative is on Johnson, and sort of down the street and over there’s a Leaf Compassion Society on Yates.

“So you can’t look on the opposite side of the street and see multiple dispensaries,” Robb said.

Robb said Trees has been operating from the Yates Street location since December 2015.

City staff suggest council has four alternatives in considering the first two Yates Street applications:

• Move the Trees application to public hearing and defer consideration of the one from Pure Releaf

• Move the Trees application to public hearing and decline the application from Pure Releaf

• Move both applications to public hearing.

• Decline both applications.

The new licensing provisions — which came after the city saw an explosion in the number of marijuana retailers in the past couple of years — are intended to bring some order to the burgeoning sector even while the federal government works to fulfil an election promise to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.

Thirty-nine marijuana-related businesses are operating in Victoria, with about 35 operating as storefront medical cannabis retailers.

Under the process now in place, a business licence will not be issued until a rezoning has been approved.

Meanwhile, marijuana retailers are expected to come into compliance with business licensing requirements, which include:

• No cannabis consumption on premises

• Operating hours restricted between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

• A maximum of two display signs without any images.

Retailers are also expected to meet strict security and ventilation requirements.

No one younger than 19 is permitted on the premises.

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