It's still illegal to sell marijuana in stores, according to the Criminal Code of Canada, but soon — maybe as early as March  Vancouver will be handing out business licences to a handful of pot shops that have jumped through all the regulatory hoops established by the city. 

"We think the first DE [development permit] will be issued sometime next week," said Andreea Toma, Vancouver director of licensing. "Then then we anticipate by this spring we could have the first business licence issued."

Toma says there are now 14 marijuana businesses at the front of the line, hoping to get approval for a development permit. 

Zoning requirements 

Originally only 11 of 176 applicants met the zoning requirements set out by the city, which included being at least 300 metres away from a school, community centre or public gathering space.

An additional three marijuana businesses have since found a viable location, raising the total number to 14.

Andreea Toma

Andreea Toma is Vancouver's chief licence inspector. (CBC)

"Once they receive their development permit, then they'll be asked to take full application on the business licence," said Toma. "That's when some of the other requirements in regards to security, police information checks of the owner and the directors — be it a society or a for-profit model — and some of the other requirements of our business licence bylaws would come into play."

The businesses seeking a licence have been asked to provide a security plan. 

"We've heard loud and clear that staff shouldn't work alone. So there must be two staff working there at all time," she said. "We're requesting everyone provide a plan in terms of how they're managing the safety of their people and how they're dealing with the product."

'Declustering' pot shops

The city is also in the process of "de-clustering" 19 other pot shop applicants who are currently located too close to each other. Toma says there are "six or seven" different clusters around the city, including on Kingsway, West 4th Avenue, and in the downtown.

The city will consider factors such as bylaw compliance and neighbour and police complaints to determine which store in each cluster can move forward in the licensing process. 

Over 60 marijuana stores that did not meet the zoning requirements are appealing to the board of variance to have their development permit refusals overturned. Those meetings begin later this month.

Back door through board of variance?

Toma says the city has heard from citizens who are worried the board of variance will become a back door to obtaining a pot shop development permit. She says it's important for people to know that all board of variance meetings are public. 

"I know people have been writing to mayor and council because they're concerned with the board of variance," she said. "The board of variance meetings are public meetings and they have a responsibility to also engage with the community."

There are an estimated 100-plus medical marijuana shops and dispensaries currently operating in Vancouver. Last summer, city council voted to proceed with a recommendation to license them.