Vancouver city council has voted to regulate and license the roughly 100 medical marijuana retailers in the city, making it the first city in Canada to do so and drawing fire from Health Minister Rona Ambrose.

The bylaw was supported by Mayor Gregor Robertson, the dominant Vision Vancouver councillors, and Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr. Opposed were the city's three Non-Partisan Association councillors.

Coun. Kerry Jang called the controversial bylaw "a common-sense approach to dealing with the explosion of medical marijuana shops in our city."

The bylaw will charge retail dealers a $30,000 licence fee — the city's highest permit cost — and prevent shops from operating within 300 metres of community centres, schools and other pot shops.

Under the rules, dozens are expected to be forced to close because they fall within those limits.

The B.C. Compassion Club Society's dispensary on Commercial Drive is one of the outlets that may need to move. 

Jamie Shaw, the society's spokeswoman, said it could be difficult to find a new location.

"We've had dispensaries or potential dispensary operators looking for every available space in this city for the last two years... available space is now severely diminished," she said.

The non-profit society is Canada's oldest and largest medical cannabis dispensary and says it helps more than 10,000 members with a wide range of illnesses.

Shaw said she's glad the compassion club designation should mean the group only has to pay a $1,000 licence fee, but she thinks they should be able to sell edibles.

The bylaw does not allow the sale of edible products like pot brownies, with the exception of edible oils, which would include tinctures and capsules.

Public hearings

The city held four nights of public hearings on the proposed bylaws, with dozens of speakers for and against the new regulations.

"We're not regulating the product, we're simply regulating the business itself," said Jang.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose opposed the bylaw, sending letters to Vancouver's mayor and city councillors telling them marijuana is illegal and the bylaw will increase marijuana use and addiction, and she issued a strongly worded statement after today's vote.

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Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose opposes the City of Vancouver's bylaw on medical marijuana dispensaries. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"I am deeply disappointed by the City of Vancouver's decision to 'regulate' illegal marijuana storefronts across the city," wrote Ambrose in a statement Wednesday.

"Storefronts selling marijuana are illegal and under this Conservative government will remain illegal. We expect the police to enforce the law."

In city council Wednesday, Coun. Geoff Meggs called that position "backward and destructive." He repeated the city's position that it's taking action because the federal government has not.

"Wake up, you are completely out of touch with the realities on the ground," said Meggs, aiming his comments at Ambrose.

Meggs also called the remarks in public hearings from some marijuana dispensary owners "tone deaf," and said that the city is acting because of evidence the retailers have not been good neighbours and have marketed pot sales toward children.


What is your experience of marijuana edibles? Email us your story at cbcnewsvancouver@cbc.ca