Bylaws, dispensaries and 4/20: Vancouver 2016 in pot

Vancouver — considered by some to be the epicentre of the marijuana industry — had a busy year in pot.

The federal government is expected to introduce legislation to legalize pot in 2017

A recent survey of more than 500 cannabis users in the United States found the black market still plays a role in supplying consumers in legalized states. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The countdown to marijuana legalization officially began on, yes, Apr. 20 — or 4/20 — when the federal government announced it would table legislation to legalize marijuana in the spring of 2017.

Revellers at Vancouver's annual 4/20 greeted the news with celebration. The event this year had moved to Sunset Beach with an estimated 25,000 participants at its peak. Some called it he biggest event the city has ever had.

A woman wearing a pot leaf printed shirt looks down at the Vancouver's Sunset Beach 4/20 celebration from the Burrard Street Bridge on Apr. 20. The federal government announced on Apr. 20 that it would put forward legislation to legalize marijuana by the spring of 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

But it wasn't just free joints and smoky beaches — 2016 marked key milestones for the green herb.

Federal court strikes down home growing ban

The Federal Court overturned a ban on medical marijuana users growing their own pot in February. (Associated Press)

The year started with the Federal Court striking down a ban on medical marijuana users growing their own pot. Judge Michael Phelan gave the federal government six months to come up with new rules.

Ottawa decided not to appeal, and new regulations were introduced in August.

First Vancouver marijuana dispensary business licence

In May, the Wealth Shop on West 10th Avenue was the first Vancouver pot shop to be granted a business license. (David Horemans/CBC)

Although Vancouver's bold medical marijuana bylaws were introduced in 2015, this year saw the full realization of the city's medical marijuana bylaw scheme with the issuance of the city's first business licence to a medical marijuana dispensary in May.

The high volume of applicants, coupled with the small number of approvals, led to a frustrated number of pot shop owners.

Those rejected pot shops started their appeals process with the board of variance, with varying degrees of success.

By December, eight shops had been given business licenses and 11 more are under final processing.

Other municipalities, including Victoria, have adopted their own similar dispensary scheme.

Defiant pot shops take a stance

Pot magnate Don Briere claimed Vancouver's dispensary bylaws which would shutter a large number of pot dispensaries are a violation of the Constitution. He filed a Notice of Constitutional Question in a bid to quash the bylaws in August.

Nevertheless, many pot shops remain open in defiance of the bylaws.

Don Briere, who runs a chain of pot shops, said the dispensary bylaws violated his constitutional rights, claiming the city's attempt to close dispensaries wa limiting the availability of marijuana for medical patients.

In April 2016, the city introduced a system of fines for these defiant pot shops.

In extreme cases — where businesses were issued multiple fines — the city asked for court injunctions to shut down the shops.

The city currently has 27 injunctions filed against pot shops.

In the meantime, marijuana campaigner Dana Larsen — whose dispensaries remain unlicensed by the city — announced he would start selling marijuana to people regardless of whether they had a prescription.

Big business puts down roots

More than 100 exhibitors showcased their wares at the Vancouver Cannabis Expo in September.

September's inaugural Vancouver Cannabis Expo made clear that entrepreneurs were getting ready for a recreational marijuana industry estimated at $22.8 billion. Organizer Natasha Raey heralded a new era of pot shops.

"It's not just someone selling bud out of a ziploc bag anymore. You're seeing real brand development. The industry is growing up," she said at the time.

Shoppers Drug Mart, Loblaws, and other corporations put in their own bids to sell marijuana, and B.C. Liquor stores also pressed for their right to sell pot.

Marijuana task force makes recommendations

Anne McLellan, the leader of the federal task force on marijuana. The task force released its recommendations on the legalization of marijuana in December. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government's marijuana task force — appointed in June — released its recommendations. 

Among its recommendations: limiting sales to those 18 and older, selling pot separately from liquor, a personal possession limit of 30 grams and using storefront locations to sell cannabis.

Councillor Kerry Jang, who oversees the City of Vancouver's pot file, wryly noted parts of the federal government's recommendations seemed lifted from Vancouver's marijuana dispensary scheme.

"That was very gratifying and I was pleased to see that," he said.

Jang said the city is ready for 2017's promised federal legislation.

"I think the City of Vancouver bylaws are well-placed to be modified to meet federal legislation," he said. "[We'll be prepared] as soon as the legislation comes down."