Victoria pushing to regulate marijuana shops, not close them

Victoria will follow Vancouver’s lead and attempt to create new regulations to better control marijuana stores rather than using existing business licensing provisions in an attempt to shut them down.

“I think this proposal seems to balance concern in the community but also the fact that thousands of our residents consume marijuana either for medical or recreational reasons and that’s kind of the new normal,” said Coun. Ben Isitt.

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Mayor Lisa Helps said there are four reasons she supports the regulatory approach Victoria council has agreed to adopt:

• Police are not opposed to the approach.

• It offers better control over who can enter the shops, which is especially important since marijuana use by youth can cause significant challenges such as early-onset schizophrenia.

• Provision can be made for non-profits that have been providing medical marijuana for years to continue doing so.

• Vancouver is showing leadership and lessons learned there can be used here.

Coun. Geoff Young was opposed. He said the laws surrounding the sale and use of marijuana are evolving. “I don’t want to say one form of selling marijuana is fine and another isn’t. I think those things have to be clarified through the court process and the process of political change, if necessary.”

In the past year, the capital region has seen an explosion of marijuana-related businesses. Victoria municipal staff say the city has 18 marijuana businesses, including ones that sell drug paraphernalia and provide medical advice or consultations on use of medical marijuana.

Coun. Marianne Alto said she didn’t want to interfere with the operations of compassion clubs, which have been operating successfully for years.

“On the West Coast, we came to the understanding of the utility of marijuana and cannabis as a medicinal product years ago. Whether you agree with that or not, our community has been using it in that manner for decades and doing so successfully in quiet, unobtrusive, fair ways, providing extraordinary relief for individuals in extremely difficult circumstances,” Alto said.

“At no time, in no way, do I wish us to have a negative impact on the ongoing capacity of those individuals to provide compassionate care.”

Victoria staff had recommended that rather than wait for a complaint, bylaw officers should investigate the sector and force operators to comply with business-licence regulations or face ticketing and/or suspension or revocation of licences.

Council chose instead to pattern its approach after Vancouver, which hopes to create a new business-licence category, charge a $30,000 fee and ban pot shops from certain areas. It would require them to be 300 metres away from schools, community centres and each other in the hope of ensuring public safety while providing access to medical marijuana.

Victoria staff say the city could potentially impose additional requirements on medical marijuana businesses, such as specific business fees; regulations for signs and advertising; regulations regarding minors, record keeping and security; and limits on hours of operation, noise and littering.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has made it clear that marijuana stores are illegal and will remain so under her government. Under existing federal regulations, people wanting medical marijuana can legally receive it only in the mail from a producer licensed by Health Canada.

But Isitt said there could well be a different federal government by the time new city bylaws are available.

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