Dispensaries Get the Official Go-Ahead in Victoria BC

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Canadians everywhere who love to frequent their favourite local cannabis dispensaries are praising British Columbia for its tolerance and understanding.

In what is seen by the cannabis community as true progress, the City of Victoria has enacted zoning bylaws for dispensaries; those who qualify will be able to operate without fear of closure. According to the City of Victoria, cannabis dispensaries are legitimate small businesses.

This is a huge step forward for both the provincial and municipal governments of B.C. considering their “parent company” Trudeau Incorporated has gone on record several times stating that storefronts selling marijuana are not legal.

Qualifying cannabis businesses must apply for a zoning variance and pay a $5,000 licensing fee.

Victoria’s refreshing attitude shows at the very least a willingness to work with the entire cannabis community, and not just wait for who the task force deems appropriate at some unknown future date. More importantly, it’s a sincerely empathetic gesture for the local citizens who have experienced the turmoil of the mail order system, and can’t go through the rigors of growing their own.

“Victoria’s new municipal cannabis regulations are some of the most progressive in the country, as they allow for dispensaries, edibles, mail order and delivery,” said Lisa Campbell who is the Founder of Green Market Toronto. The market is a semi-underground but popular cannabis event, which occurs several times a month and features products from local marijuana artisans.

Abi Roach is one of the cornerstones for pot in Toronto and the Head of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association. She owns Roach-o-Rama and The Hot Box Cafe which are the oldest marijuana establishments in the city.  She also owns a ‘bud and breakfast’ vacation spot in Jamaica.

“[Victoria’s regulations are] reasonable. The one downfall that both Vancouver and Victoria have, is that they don’t allow for consumption sites.”  Abi added that once cannabis becomes more accepted as a mainstream lifestyle among the greater population, people will need a place to enjoy it other than at home.  For the pot layman, consumption sites are places like vapour cafes and cannabis cafes.

“If you look to Colorado and Washington State, they started out their legalization platform without consumption sites and now they have to go and redo everything because they’ve realized that people need a place to smoke.” Other than that issue, Abi is thrilled with the news.  “I think it’s fantastic, very understanding and in line with what the public wants.”

Ultimately, Abi feels that Amsterdam is the king of cannabis.  “Canada should be looking at the European model and not really at the North American model.  Europe has done a much better job at decriminalizing cannabis.”

One of the individuals directly involved with the process in Victoria is Dieter Macpherson, a Director of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.  He outlined what the specific bylaws entail.

“The City of Victoria enacted new regulations that allow for the licensing of storefront distributors, as well as production facilities like bakeries.”  Macpherson went on to add that anyone under 19 is not allowed in these establishments. Additionally, health and safety warnings need to be posted and no consumption will is permitted onsite.

On the surface, these new regulations appear to work against Trudeau government policy, but Macpherson is quick to point out the political dance moves that make Victoria’s regulations legitimate.  “The municipal governments have the ability to regulate land use and business conduct. The regulations do not touch on the products sold, so they are regulating land use and businesses without actually regulating the product. What we have here is called reality on the ground.”

The government official right in the middle of this regulation equivalent to the parting of the Red Sea is Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.  She outlined her motive for enacting these new bylaws to Marijuana.com.  “We know that the federal government is going to put in some regulatory regime and we don’t know what that is, so in the meantime, we can’t just wait around.”

Helps goes on to add that they consulted with members of the community, including dispensary owners and the general public about their needs, and that is what lead them to this new regulatory regime. “We think it’s fair and even-handed.  It makes room for what’s still a grey area.”  Helps admitted that the regulations are not perfect and noted that some people advocated for consumption sites but said, “that is not what we set out to do, that is a Health matter if anything.”

Helps personally believes that dispensaries offer a needed service, and the federal government should look to Victoria as a model of success.  Her office will be sending their experiences and findings to the task force so they are made aware of the great strides Victoria has made for everyone on both sides of the issue.

In regard to the other Mayors across Canada who are wondering what to do about the dispensaries in their communities, Helps shares the advice she would offer them if asked. “I would save them a whole bunch of time and money and invite them to email me, mayor@victoria.ca, and we are happy to provide all of the regulatory regime that we have put in place.  Our staff has done tons of work and there is no need for municipalities to replicate that work.”

(Atomazul/Shutterstock)

About Author

Jonathan Hiltz has been a journalist, a TV producer and marijuana advocate for over sixteen years. He has a wife, two young children and lives in the Toronto area.

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