Pubdate: Wed, 08 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


Vancouver's approach to regulating illegal marijuana dispensaries is
working, says the councillor who helped develop Canada's first
municipal pot licensing regime, even if almost half of the stores
continue to operate outside the bylaw.

Councillor Kerry Jang, point person for the governing Vision Vancouver
party on the marijuana file, said that regardless of how long it takes
to shut down these rogue shops, the city's regulatory program - not
police raids - is paying off. The strategy is meeting the city's
public-health goals of stamping out sales to minors and cutting down
on the armed robberies now plaguing Toronto's illegal dispensary sector.

"To everyone who tries to count the pennies, I say, 'Well, did we
achieve what we wanted to do?' " Mr. Jang said. "We are in the process
of achieving [all those public-health goals] very successfully
compared to other jurisdictions.

"To me that's what the people of Vancouver wanted."

Fifty-one shops are flouting the bylaw and remain open, according to
an official update provided Tuesday. All of those are subject to daily
fines. However, it could still be months before a B.C. Provincial
Court judge decides whether to grant injunctions that the city has
filed against 27 of the worst offenders.

On the plus side, eight shops are operating with a special business
licence, 47 applicants are in the process of trying to acquire this
approval and 38 have now shuttered their doors.

Mr. Jang said the city's distancing rules have kept most stores away
from places where kids congregate and its security requirements for
business-licence applicants have raised the bar for all dispensaries,
which is helping to keep their employees and products safer.

Meanwhile, bylaw officers have issued 1,221 violation tickets, many of
which are $1,000, for operating outside of the city's licensing
regime. Only 301 of these fines, however, have been paid.

Don Briere, owner of one of Canada's biggest chain of illegal
marijuana dispensaries, said he is disputing each and every ticket
each of his six Vancouver locations receives.

"There's millions of dollars coming in and millions of dollars going
out [in expenses and taxes]," said Mr. Briere, who added that he has
paid lawyers more than $300,000 to fight several municipalities for
the right to stay open.

Mr. Jang said any bylaw ticket issued can become evidence in court,
which the city will use to prove the offending dispensaries should be
shut down for operating outside of its "fair and accessible" licensing

Mr. Jang said he likes the city's chances in court even more after a
B.C. Supreme Court judge granted the neighbouring municipality of
Delta a permanent injunction against a medical dispensary franchise
last summer.

That judge ruled that WeeMedical Dispensary Society was operating a
pot shop without a business licence from Delta and in contravention of
the municipality's zoning bylaws, as well as outside of federal
marijuana laws.

Ottawa is expected to table legislation this spring that will legalize
and regulate recreational marijuana over the next two years. Last
December, a government-sponsored task force recommended against
allowing liquor stores to sell cannabis and that Ottawa let the
provinces decide where it can be sold.

While the stores are still illegal under federal law, they have
proliferated in cities such as Vancouver and Victoria, where local
politicians such as Mr. Jang argue their rules can eventually be
adapted to any national framework regulating the storefront sale of
the drug.

All dispensaries and compassion clubs across Canada still operate
outside the federal government's medical-marijuana program, which
permits about 30 industrial-scale growers to sell dried flowers and
bottles of cannabis oil directly to patients through the mail.

Public pressure mounted on Vancouver to do something about these
illegal shops after their numbers spiked from just 14 in 2012 to about
100 in the spring of 2015, when city council began public hearings
into crafting its current dispensary bylaw.
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