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Public asked to weigh in on Victoria pot dispensary rules

Victoria will take its proposed marijuana dispensary licensing regulations to the public for feedback.
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Shadow Mountain Medicinal Dispensary on Herald Street in Victoria. There are more than 20 marijuana-related businesses in the city.

Victoria will take its proposed marijuana dispensary licensing regulations to the public for feedback.

City councillors earlier said they wanted to hear from the new federal government about its proposals for legalizing and regulating marijuana before proceeding with a business licensing bylaw.

The majority of council agreed Thursday with staff that there is value in consulting with the public on the city’s proposed regulations while federal changes are being developed.

“I’m supportive of this very, very, very reluctantly,” said Mayor Lisa Helps, saying marijuana is a federal issue that is taking up “an inordinate” amount of time when it shouldn’t even be on the municipal table.

Helps said she doesn’t want to be faced with the possibility of a number of marijuana shops being grandfathered because of city inaction.

“The city needs to have control over these land uses. It’s within our purview. I don’t want 30 rezoning applications coming at once, but I strongly feel that this should be regulated not only through business licensing but also through zoning,” Helps said.

Coun. Marianne Alto argued against, saying the city was “setting standards in a vacuum” and that much of the staff work could end up being wasted time if it is usurped by federal laws.

Alto said she was concerned that the proposed city regulations don’t distinguish between for profit and non-profit dispensaries, don’t allow for sale of edible marijuana products and could be “an enforcement black hole” consuming far too much staff time.

While business licence costs are yet to be determined, city staff are recommending a fee based on cost recovery — likely in the range of $4,000 to $5,000.

The City of Vancouver recently gave the green light to 11 of the 176 dispensaries that have applied for licences. It created a two-tier licensing system that allows compassion clubs to pay a fee of $1,000, while for-profit pot shops must pay $30,000.

Victoria staff say they found no appreciable distinction among the businesses that would warrant creation of more than one business class, and that unlike Vancouver, city licensing fees have to be based on cost recovery.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday said he looked forward to hearing from the public. He and several other councillors had concerns about proposed rules prohibiting sale of edibles.

“I look forward to having a meaningful engagement and I think part of that has to be, again, with the dispensaries directly and specifically with the compassion clubs,” Loveday said, adding he wants to hear what they think the difference is between them and for-profit stores.

The proposed regulations cover topics such as air filtration, security, advertising and age restrictions.

They are designed to address health and safety concerns, potential neighbourhood impacts and security concerns.

The number of medical marijuana-related businesses in the city is growing fast.

About 18 months ago, only four marijuana-related businesses were in operation in the city. There are now 23 and police say they know of at least four more that plan to open.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com