British Columbia·Photos

Pot shop advocates protest in Vancouver as deadline passes

Vancouver marijuana dispensaries that haven't been approved to apply for business licences and had a deadline of Friday to close will face city bylaw enforcement beginning Saturday.

Only 20 marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver have been approved for permitting, dozens must close

A group of demonstrators gathers outside Vancouver city hall to protest the regulation of marijuana dispensaries. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Vancouver marijuana dispensaries that haven't been approved to apply for business licences and had a deadline of Friday to close will face city bylaw enforcement beginning Saturday.

A small group of demonstrators gathered in front of city hall throughout the day, smoking joints, pipes, or bongs and making impassioned speeches about their beliefs on the issue of marijuana regulation and the plant's medicinal qualities.

"We're down here trying to get some common sense going on for city hall here," said activist Harry Warburton, who uses marijuana medicinally. "These marijuana shops provide a very good service for people that are using cannabis medically, as well as the ones that are using it recreationally."

Activist Harry Warburton, who uses medical marijuana, says the dispensaries provide a good service for patients. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's all about the rights of the people to choose what they want to do with their body, and how they want to medicate themselves."

Katelyn Hooge, 26, was diagnosed with spinal cord cancer when she was a child. She started using pot when she was 15 years old. 

"I desperately need the cannabis every day to manage my symptoms — just to be able to get enough sleep, to be able to walk properly, to have a functioning day," she said.

Activist Chris Reekie says he doesn't understand why the city would want to shut down the dispensaries, saying they "do more good than anything else." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Chris Reekie said he was in front of city hall to "save the dispensaries of the Vancouver area."

"I'm looking for answers from Kerry Jang and the City of Vancouver. I want to know why the dispensaries are being shut down. They do more good than anything else."

Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang, who has become the city's point person on the pot shop issue, wasn't very sympathetic to the demonstrators shouting his name. 

Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang says he's surprised people are protesting on deadline day, since the shops forced to close had six months to prepare. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Quite frankly, you know, I find it surprising there's a protest, because after all the marijuana dispensaries wanted these bylaws," said Jang. "They wanted to be treated like any other legitimate business, and that's what we've done. Now all of a sudden, they don't like the rules. That's just not acceptable."

Jang said, for the most part, the shops have been cooperative with officials.

"I will say that the vast majority of pot shop owners are planning to comply. They actually said they want to work with the city."

Activists Darron Rutter and Katelyn Hooge hold signs in front of Vancouver city hall on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

But for the shops that aren't complying, officials say there will be consequences.

According to Andreea Toma, the city's chief licence inspector, as of Friday, there were 20 shops that had successfully passed the development permit stage. Those businesses can now proceed to the business license stage.

The city has identified seven clusters of shops, where the 300-metre-between-dispensaries rule needs to be worked out. Nineteen shops are included in that group and won't be targeted by the city's property-use inspectors.

Vancouver Chief Licence Inspector Andreea Toma says there are now 20 marijuana dispensaries that have been given the green light to apply for business licences, and seven more are expected soon after a 'declustering' process. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Of the seven clusters, Toma said two have been settled, and the remaining five will be sorted out with a lottery in the next two weeks. Those that aren't chosen will have six months to relocate.

But dozens of other shops have been told to shut down and beginning Saturday, inspectors will be out.

"We know we're going to see some businesses in compliance, others not," said Toma. "We have 22 inspectors on staff — permanent full time staff."

Toma said the issue is a priority for her staff, and inspectors can issue violation tickets each day up to $250. 

"We're also looking at prosecutions as well as injunctions," said Toma. "It all depends on how the industry chooses to respond."

Demonstrators roll joints and share fist bumps outside Vancouver city hall on Friday as a deadline passes for rejected pot dispensaries to shut down. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Jang added that officials will immediately begin collecting evidence, in case they require a court injunction to force the shops to shut down.

But for Chris Reekie protesting outside city hall, the whole enforcement effort seems like a waste of the city's time.

"Why crack down now when it's already going to be legalized in 2017?"

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