Victoria cannabis landscape set to shift as pot rush ends

City’s licensed dispensaries to face new rules when recreational use becomes legal in October

Victoria’s pot shop rush is over for now — just in time for a shift in the regulatory landscape as new provincial regulations kick in.

Two years after introducing bylaws to zone and license cannabis retailers, Victoria city councillors this week sent the last of the active zoning applications to public hearing.

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“I think the landscape will change,” said acting mayor Chris Coleman. “Part of it will be a market response where some validly authorized marijuana dispensaries will be an economic go and some won’t and they will fail.

“The second half of that will be the enforcement against those that haven’t chosen to go through [the city’s] process.”

In 2016 Victoria became 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.

The new zoning regulations initially didn’t allow pot shops within 200 metres of a school or another pot shop. (The latter provision was amended to 400 metres.)

Applications were processed on a first-come, first-served basis, and the distance restriction saw potential retailers rush to stake out their corner of the city before someone else tried to set up shop.

Victoria’s licensed dispensaries will face a whole new set of rules come Oct. 17, when the use and sale recreational marijuana becomes legal and retailers must get provincial government approval.

Coleman never imagined it would take so long for the city to process all of the cannabis retailers.

Prior to city regulation, cannabis retailing “was underground and Wild West,” he said, adding that the city probably expected the federal government to move more quickly with its legislation.

“We’re being held out as an area that has been progressive on it,” Coleman said. “I’m not sure if that means it was worth it, but it’s better we’re working toward a system that eventually, across the country, will see the legitimate use of marijuana, and not just the medical side.”

Under the new rules, existing private dispensaries will have to apply for a licence through the province and receive zoning permission from their local government.

All non-medical B.C. pot shops — government-run and private — will have to purchase wholesale cannabis from the Liquor Distribution Branch.

Since the city began the regulatory process in 2016, it has received about 40 cannabis storefront applications. Of those, 14 have been given rezonings and three have received temporary use permits. Ten operations have received business licences and seven are in process, city staff say.

Of the balance, city staff say several have voluntarily shut their doors.

One, the Green Dragon Medicinal Society at 541 Herald St., was closed through court action. A B.C. Supreme Court justice granted the city an injunction to shut down the Green Dragon, which had been denied rezoning because it was 155 metres from the Chinese Public School at 636 Fisgard St.

The city also obtained a conviction against one of the operators of Terp City at 1412 Douglas St., on 32 bylaw tickets with fines totalling $24,500.

City staff say 11 retailers are no longer operating — some after their rezoning applications were not supported, others following enforcement efforts.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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