Pubdate: Thu, 23 Apr 2015 Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC) Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc. Contact: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/477 Authors: Lori Culbert and Brian Morton Page: A7 LICENSING FEE OF $30,000 'RIDICULOUSLY HIGH' Dispensaries and others welcome regulation, but proposed costs deemed unfair Travis Williams works in the Cannabis Culture lounge on Davie Street, which does not sell weed but charges a $5 fee for people to bring in and smoke their own. A separate marijuana dispensary, run by Eden Medicinal Society, is located in the same building with a door that opens into the hazy lounge. The businesses appear to violate two of the city's proposed new regulations: that two marijuana-related business cannot operate within 300 metres of each other and that they cannot be located within 300 metres of a school. Lord Roberts Elementary in the West End is just 180 metres from the two outfits on Davie. But Williams said the lounge and dispensary, located on the second floor of the building, are out of sight from schoolchildren, and argued as medical marijuana becomes more mainstream it should be available in all neighbourhoods, not just commercial strips. "I understand why they want it to be kept out of children's eyes - I have kids myself - but our lounge is not on the ground floor," he said, while smoking a joint. "If it is going to be acceptable and legal, then it needs to not be hidden." Cannabis Culture is run by Vancouver's so-called Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, who Williams predicted would be vocal against the city's new proposed rules. "The whole point of the lounges is that we are trying to show that smoking weed is a social experience =C2=85 it is much safer than drinking= alcohol in a bar," added Williams, a former bartender. "I don't see why there needs to be that many regulations on pot." Cannabis Culture has run a lounge for years on Hastings. The West End location - outfitted with brown leather chairs and a long bar that holds bongs instead of beer taps - has been open for only a week. The city's proposed $30,000 licensing fee is unfair, Williams argued, compared with the lower fees charged to other businesses. He didn't think the fee would necessarily force marijuana businesses to close, but guessed some might choose to do so out of protest. "It is a ridiculously high cost they are asking and I don't know why it needs to be that high," Williams added. Meanwhile, two of Vancouver's non-profit marijuana dispensaries welcome the city's move, but also believe the $30,000 fee might be too high. They hope the city can be convinced to change the regulations. "We think it's a great first step," Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries and spokeswoman for the B.C. Compassion Club Society, said of the regulations. "We've been asking for the city to regulate cannabis for a long time and we've asked for anybody to do it for 18 years. We might have some concerns, but usually these proposals are never accepted exactly the way they are. When we work with the city, we can probably work most of those (concerns) out and come to some sort of agreement." Shaw said it makes sense to have a licensing fee, although the $30,000 figure "is probably one of the details we'll have to work out and come to some sort of agreement on." This cost would be a concern for a non-profit like the B.C. Compassion Club Society, she said, although it might be justified for a for-profit dispensary. "We'd have to find the money somewhere. Right now, we put our money into acupuncture, massage treatments, herbalists, naturopaths, nutritionists, so there's a lot of treatments we offer. That ($30,000) would definitely cut into our ability to do that." Shaw also said the stipulation that dispensaries must be at least 300 metres from a school would be problematic because they're very close to Stratford Hall, an independent school. "We look forward to engaging with the city and seeing what we come up with," she said. Dana Larsen, a director with the Vancouver-based non-profit Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary and vice-president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, agreed that regulation is necessary but that the $30,000 fee is too high. "First, we welcome regulation," Larsen said. "We want there to be rules, bylaws and structures in place. We think it's a very positive step the city's bringing forward. They're not talking about how to get rid of us, they're talking about reasonable regulation. "But there are some things that are worrisome that we hope the city will negotiate and move on. Thirty thousand dollars seems like a very high fee for a business like this. We're happy to pay a premium on our business licence, but that seems pretty high to me. So we'll certainly be bringing our feedback to the city." Larsen said the requirement that dispensaries be at least 300 metres from schools or community centres is also worrisome because one of their two dispensaries that's been open seven years is close to a community centre. "I would be disappointed," Larsen said, "if we were forced to move from there. That (requirement) would adversely affect one of our dispensaries where we haven't had any problems or complaints. (The city) might allow some grandfathering, perhaps impose those rules on some of the newer ones opening."