Metro Morning

Toronto looks to Vancouver for help licensing medical marijuana dispensaries

Toronto city council is watching how Vancouver's new medical marijuana licensing programs rolls out as it plans to create regulations of its own.

Vancouver to issue first business licence for a medical marijuana dispensary Friday

Vancouver announced plans to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries last June and will issue the first of its new licences Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Toronto is looking west to Vancouver as it considers implementing some regulations on illegally operating medical marijuana dispensaries across the city. 

The decision comes after a rapid growth in the industry in Toronto, with dispensaries opening on the Danforth, in Kensington Market, in Bloordale and on Dundas Street West, to name just a few neighbourhoods. 

"We just can't have allegedly medical marijuana dispensaries popping up on every street corner in a completely unregulated manner," said Mayor John Tory. 

"We can't have the Wild West of marijuana distribution," he said. 

Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang spearheaded the city's efforts to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

In Vancouver, pot shops popped up next to schools 

In Vancouver, a similar problem emerged last year, with more than 100 medical marijuana dispensaries opening within a few months. 

That prompted Coun. Kerry Jang to move that the city establish a regulatory system to manage the industry. 

"The problem was that they started to show up next to schools ... we had three or four of them all in one little place, in one block, it started to change the look and feel of the neighbourhood," Jang said. 

So the city established a special licence for the budding business, putting restrictions on where and when the dispensaries could open. 

"Cities have distancing requirements for things like pharmacies and liquor stores, so we used that same basic model," said Jang. 

In addition, Vancouver added a hefty price tag to the licences, ringing in at $30,000 a year for the average pot shop. 

30 plus shops close voluntarily

It took Vancouver less than a year to create and start enforcing the new licensing program, and the response from dispensaries was immediate.

About 30 shops closed voluntarily and 20 others were deemed legitimate businesses, qualifying for the new licences. The remaining shops are being targeted by bylaw officers who can fine them $250 every day they continue to operate illegally.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he hopes to follow Vancouver's lead, regulating the dispensaries using business licensing. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Toronto city staff in talks with Vancouver

The success of Vancouver's new policy is prompting Toronto to look into similar regulations. 

"What I've asked is for the head of our licensing operation to explore ways in which we can do something similar to what's been done in Vancouver," said Tory.

"It took what was a massive proliferation of these alleged medical dispensaries and scaled it way back so that those who were really not legitimate, people in that business got out of the business." 

Jang said he's already spoken with Toronto city staff, and he's eager to share Vancouver's experience. 

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