Council backs doubling distance between Victoria pot shops

Victoria councillors have agreed to double the minimum recommended distance between cannabis storefronts to 400 metres from 200 in the hope of further weeding down their number.  The change in policy, which should ultimately mean fewer cannabis storefronts will be approved by council, was suggested by councillors Margaret Lucas and Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

Lucas said the two have received input from residents and neighbourhood associations requesting the change.  “Approximately what would happen is it would give us one shop per every couple of blocks in the downtown, and in the neighbourhoods approximately one in the village centre per neighbourhood,” Lucas said.  “That was in response to all of the feedback we have been hearing.”

Councillors Jeremy Loveday and Ben Isitt argued against the change.  “I do think a lot of concern about the distance between the dispensaries is that residents can’t imagine that these dispensaries will close. So they can’t see the process through to the point where the ones that don’t get approved are no longer there,” Loveday said.

Many of the shops that currently exist will eventually be weeded out through the licensing and enforcement process, he said.  If you were to have none within 200 metres that would actually create quite a bit of space,” Loveday said.

Isitt said if the 400 metre distance was applied to liquor outlets, many of the existing ones would not be allowed.  “I don’t think the separation between our liquor stores is inadequate. I think that kind of distance is acceptable and I don’t know why we would impose even more rigorous standards on cannabis dispensaries when cannabis has much less social impact and contributes to substantially less social disorder than liquor consumption.”

About 30 marijuana-related businesses are operating within the city. Two have successfully completed the licensing process and have been rezoned. Under the process established by the city, dispensaries must first seek a rezoning before applying for a business licence.

Meanwhile, they must meet licence standards, which prohibit selling to minors, and set rules for signs, security and staffing.

City staff say between three and five operators have not applied for rezoning and steps are being taken to seek court injunctions to shut down those who show no willingness to follow city regulations.  “Our legal department is currently putting together an injunctive relief on a number of these business licences that haven’t been applied for or come forward,” said city manager Jason Johnson.

Similar enforcement will occur with currently operating dispensaries that are unsuccessful in their zoning applications, he said.   “If they’re turned down and they’re operating without a licence, they’ll be fined on a daily basis as per the bylaw, which we can do. If that fails with compliance then once again we’ll go for injunctive relief,” he said.

Until the federal government’s new laws come into play next year, possession and retailing of marijuana remains illegal.  But Victoria was faced with so many dispensaries setting up shop, it opted to follow Vancouver’s lead in developing zoning and licensing regulations.  The minimum distance is a guideline considered during the rezoning process and can be changed at council’s discretion.