Vancouver approves new 'Cannabis Store' designation ahead of legalization

Vancouver city council has made changes to its bylaw to accommodate the sale of non-medical cannabis, ahead of federal legalization on Oct. 17.

Licensed stores will be the only locations where non-medical cannabis can be bought legally

Storefront of marijuana store on Robson Street in Vancouver. (David Horemans/CBC)

Vancouver city council has made changes to its bylaw to accommodate the sale of non-medical cannabis, ahead of federal legalization on Oct. 17.

City council created the "Cannabis Store" designation through a zoning and development bylaw amendment at a council meeting on Tuesday night. 

This will replace the existing "Medical Marijuana Related Use" (MMRU), so that pot shops also selling non-recreational marijuana can operate under city regulations.

"We essentially took the existing land use definitions and rules that we had in place for an MMRU and we basically opened that up to all cannabis," said Kaye Krishna, general manager of development, buildings and licensing, at a press conference Wednesday.

"It's the same rules — but for all cannabis."

Following legalization of non-medical cannabis, licensed cannabis retail stores will be the only locations where federally approved non-medical cannabis can be purchased legally in Vancouver.

 As of Oct. 17, stores will be able to sell dried and fresh cannabis, as well as oils, seeds and seedlings. A framework for edibles could come within a year.

Existing requirements remain 

All existing requirements for operating a cannabis store in the future will be the same as the existing MMRU stores — which includes only operating in commercial zones and maintaining a distance of at least 300 metres from schools, community centres, and other cannabis retailers.

Under the new retail model, operators will also be required to have three pieces of approval — municipal land use approval, a provincial operator business license, and a municipal business license — to be fully compliant.

According to the city, 46 locations have received land-use approval to operate. Of those, 19 have fully complied with the licensing process.

An additional 75 are operating outside the city's land use and business licensing requirements.

"The city has continued to issue tickets, regularly, weekly, to the illegal operators and we file injunctions against them as well, when we find out about them," said Krishna.

Krishna said $1,000 fines are issued weekly, and that while some are complying, others are not obeying the 300-metre rule.

Operators critical of 300-metre rule

Dana Larsen, director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society, called the 300-metre rule "absurd." 

"Now we've got legal cannabis coming, and they haven't amended the bylaws at all, which means we're only going to have room for about 20 locations in the whole city to sell."

The city said the rule should allow for up to 60 locations to legally sell cannabis, but Larsen said that will only be possible if they're optimally spread out.

"They're not making any changes to the system that they put in place two years ago, and the system that is clearly not working by any measure," he said.

So far, the city has issued 53 injunctions against the shops.

Lawyer Robert Laurie, who will be representing over a dozen dispensaries in B.C. Supreme Court this fall in what will be a precedent-setting case, said the 300-metre rule is an "elimination strategy, not a regulatory scheme."

"Ultimately, we want to see cannabis treated on parity, not more restrictively, with alcohol and other harmful substances," he said.

With files from Jon Hernandez