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New B.C. rules could roll back Victoria pot shops, mayor says

New provincial regulations could help weed out some of the cannabis retailers in downtown Victoria, says Mayor Lisa Helps.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps

New provincial regulations could help weed out some of the cannabis retailers in downtown Victoria, says Mayor Lisa Helps.

Last week, city councillors received a letter from the Downtown Residents Association expressing concern about the proliferation of cannabis retailers downtown, a situation the association says is exacerbated by the fact no other municipality in the capital region has been licensing pot shops.

“This has created an over-concentration of a large number of cannabis outlets mostly in the downtown area that now serves the entire region,” says the letter from Ian Sutherland, Downtown Residents Association land use committee chair.

“Once legalization is complete and retail outlets are allowed in neighbouring municipalities the current over-concentration of this service downtown will likely become apparent and problematic,” he says.

But Helps said one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.

“Just because a dispensary is there now doesn’t mean it will necessarily get a provincial cannabis licence. There’s no grandfathering,” Helps said.

Last week the province introduced legislation that sets the stage for a mix of private and publicly run cannabis retailers once the federal government legalizes recreational pot.

The Cannabis Distribution Act gives the province the authority to distribute recreational cannabis to retail stores, which will be operated by a mix of public and private retailers overseen by the province’s liquor regulator.

All pot shops must purchase wholesale cannabis from the Liquor Distribution Branch, which will obtain cannabis from federally licensed producers.

Existing private dispensaries will have to apply for a licence through the province, only after an operator has permission from their local government.

As the city’s process is dealing primarily with zoning, its scope of considerations is limited to land use, Helps said.

But under the new provincial regulatory regime the city likely will be reviewing all applications again, and as it does with liquor licensing, that review will provide the opportunity to comment on the appropriateness of a given operator, Helps said.

“So if there’s someone who has been open and they’ve done a terrible job, their track record will work against them and we may recommend to the province that such and such dispensary, even though it’s been open, isn’t a good candidate for a provincial cannabis licence. So it’s a bit more complicated than it would seem,” she said.

It has to be remembered, Helps said, that only 13 of the cannabis retailers operating in the city have received city zoning approval and a business licence. Many are continuing to operate after being turned down.

The province has vowed that pot shops that continue to operate after their application is turned down will be targeted by a new community safety unit and will face fines of double the retail value of cannabis found in the store.

Helps said there’s no guarantee that even those shops that have successfully gone through the city process will ultimately get a provincial licence.

“I don’t want to presuppose that any of the dispensaries that are open now will also be granted a provincial licence,” Helps said.

“There are a ton that are still operating beyond kind of the pale, if you will. If those ones come forward and want a recommendation from us [for a provincial licence], I think they’re going to have a really hard time because they haven’t followed our rules for the last two years.”

Since the city began its process to rezone and licence cannabis retailers, it has received 42 cannabis storefront land use applications. Of those, 13 have been declined, five cancelled and eight are in process.

Currently, seven cannabis retailers are subject to enforcement (either haven’t applied for licensing or have been declined), one consumption lounge has been closed down and one is subject to enforcement.

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