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Victoria pot shops escape hefty licensing fee

Marijuana dispensaries in Victoria will not have to pay a premium of tens of thousands of dollars for a business licence as their Vancouver counterparts do under proposals from city staff.
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Shadow Mountain Medicinal Dispensary on Herald Street in Victoria. There are more than 20 marijuana-related businesses in the city.

Marijuana dispensaries in Victoria will not have to pay a premium of tens of thousands of dollars for a business licence as their Vancouver counterparts do under proposals from city staff.

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.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the sooner the new business licensing bylaw is brought in, the better.

“One of the risks we run is if we do nothing, then more and more dispensaries can keep popping up. And there’s a risk they could become grandfathered when the federal legislation changes and we will have no control over anything,” Helps said. “That’s a worry to me.”

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, says a staff report going to Victoria councillors in the coming week.

While city councillors have said they want to hear from the new federal government about its proposals for legalizing and regulating marijuana before proceeding, city staff say there is value in the city moving ahead while the federal rules are being developed.

“Since the city’s proposed regulations focus exclusively on the operation and location of businesses, rather than the actual sale of marijuana products, it is anticipated that any regulations developed by the city will continue to be relevant and applicable regardless of changes in the federal regulatory scheme,” the report says.

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 up shop.

Only four of the existing businesses have business licences. The licences allow for the sale of paraphernalia or providing medical advice, but do not authorize the sale of marijuana — in fact, the city will not issue a licence to anyone who says they plan to distribute marijuana.

The City of Vancouver has recently given the green light to 11 of the 176 dispensaries that have applied for licences.

Vancouver has 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.

Helps said she is keen to see the federal government step up to the plate.

“It shouldn’t be a municipal issue. We’ve got lots of other things to do. I’m happy to have a federal government that’s going to take it seriously and work with municipalities. But, in the meantime, if we do nothing we’ll just see more dispensaries without any city control,” she said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com