Victoria pot-shop rules spark fiery debate

Victoria is pushing ahead with new business and zoning regulations for marijuana dispensaries in the hope of bringing control over the burgeoning sector.

“This is just the beginning of our work,” Mayor Lisa Helps said. “We’re going to see, hopefully, 38 or so rezoning applications. We’re going to have lots of public hearings and lots of public discussions.”

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Proposed requirements include: No marijuana use or other business (including ATMs) on site, no one under 19 on the premises, the posting of health and safety warnings and special ventilation. A maximum of two exterior signs would be allowed, restricted to letters and numbers with no images. Sites would have to be closed between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., have video surveillance and security plans and conduct criminal record checks of employees.

Once regulations are in place — anticipated in early September — retailers would begin a rezoning process. Under the new zoning policy, marijuana retailers would not be allowed within 200 metres of one another or a school — a provision that would rule out several existing shops. Council would have the discretion to reduce the buffer in some circumstances.

Councillors were expected to approve the regulations Thursday night.

Coun. Geoff Young said that while many of the proposals are sensible, the 200-metre limit will “add unnecessary burden.”

“This is going to be a nightmare as it is,” Young said. “I think making it more complicated than necessary is not a wise idea.”

Helps also admitted to discomfort over the “loose” policy surrounding the 200-metre limit and said she hopes it will be taken seriously. “We don’t have three liquor stores on every corner. [Yet] if you stand on the corner, right now, of Quadra and Balmoral, you can literally look and count three dispensaries,” she said.

Once regulations are in place, dispensaries will be given 30 days to begin the application process.

Staff are recommending, on a cost-recovery basis, a $7,500 rezoning fee and $5,000 business licence fee.

Councillors Jeremy Loveday and Charlayne Thornton-Joe wondered about bylaw provisions that prohibit consumption on site, saying some people are prohibited from smoking within their apartments and have to find other places to use medical marijuana.

“As we work toward safe consumption sites, that may be an opportunity to have smoking rooms … and I guess there’s some comfort in knowing that people can use cookies, tinctures or sprays,” Thornton-Joe said.

Helps said there will be enforcement of the regulations.

“We spent a lot of time, energy and effort on this regulatory regime and I, quite frankly, expect people will comply,” she said. “And if they don’t comply, we’re going to fine them $1,000 a day, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll do like Vancouver is doing and seek a court injunction.”

Victoria Ingram, chief compliance officer with Trees Dispensary, which operates four marijuana dispensaries in Victoria, said the company looks forward to seeing how the city’s regulatory regime progresses.

She said under proposed regulations, Trees would likely have to alter its shop signs, which include a logo. “Overall, we’re eager to co-operate with the city’s regulations and move this process forward in a positive direction.”

Kate Dalgleish of Green Mountain, a medical marijuana consultant, said it seems the city is taking a cautious approach and waiting to see what Ottawa will do.

“Right now, it’s hard for a municipality to predict where the federal government is going to go on this,” she said.

Loveday was critical of the federal government. “I think it’s ridiculous that we haven’t received communication, guidance or input from the federal government. It’s really disappointing and it’s leaving us making decisions in a vacuum.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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