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Push for pot lounge in Victoria goes up in smoke

City councillors deny appeal for licence by private, 19-years-and-up club on Douglas
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Terp City Canna Lounge on Douglas Street has been operating without a licence. It was denied a business licence under VictoriaÕs Cannabis-Related Business Bylaw, which prohibits consumption of cannabis on site. Nov. 23, 2018

Victoria councillors have refused an appeal for a business licence by a cannabis lounge.

Terp City owner Kyle Cheyne applied in April 2017 to operate a members-only, 19-years-and-over, private club at 1412 Douglas St.

He noted no cannabis would be sold or stored on site. But Terp City was denied a licence under the city’s Cannabis-Related Business Bylaw, which prohibits consumption of cannabis at business sites.

In November, Cheyne’s lawyer Robert Laurie argued, during an appeal hearing, that Terp City was a safe consumption site, offering a place for people such as tenants or those living near schools where cannabis consumption would be prohibited, to smoke pot.

Laurie said it didn’t make sense for the city to give approval to both the sale of cannabis and paraphernalia while refusing a licence for a place for people to smoke it. He also argued the licensing of cannabis falls under exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government.

Councillors, who made their decision after receiving legal advice in a closed session, disagreed.

“While council feels a certain degree of sympathy toward the argument that provision of a safe location in which medical or recreational cannabis can be consumed is beneficial, this remains contrary to the city’s bylaws,” says a report included on the city council agenda this week. “In our view, the licence inspector had no choice but to withhold a business licence from the applicant. Similarly, we feel compelled to deny the appeal and refuse to issue a business licence for a business whose entire business model revolves around a contravention of the existing city bylaw.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Lisa Helps expressed frustration that the province has not moved more quickly in shutting down cannabis retail operations that continue to operate without proper zoning or a city business licence.

She wants to see provincial enforcement applied to dispensaries without proper zoning or business licences in place and those that haven’t applied to the city for rezoning or have been turned down for a licence.

“We were assured that the province was going to undertake that once the legalization happened and that hasn’t happened,” Helps said.

Victoria, in 2016, was the first municipality in the region to regulate cannabis outlets, requiring pot shops, many of which were already in operation, to obtain rezoning, then apply for a business licence.

Many operated without either zoning or a business licence and many of those stayed open when recreational pot became legal on Oct. 17, 2018. That happened while retailers wanting a provincial licence had to close shop while they were going through an application process.

None of the cannabis retailers now operating in the city are doing so legally.

Twelve applications are undergoing the lengthy provincial licensing process.

The process has applicants initially applying to the province. The province then confirms with the city whether they are zoned properly and have a business licence. If that is the case, the applicant is back with the province for an analysis of their business and then back to the city for a public consultation.

The province says a new Community Safety Unit is in development and will have the authority to deal with retailers that do not obtain a provincial licence; increasing enforcement can be expected as more legal stores open across the province.

Once fully staffed, it is expected that the Community Safety Unit will have about 44 full-time-equivalent employees operating provincewide out of four regional offices.

Local police also have authority to enforce laws with respect to cannabis including seizures, issuing violation tickets and investigating and prosecuting offences under both the provincial statutes and federal criminal law.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com