Delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual conference have voted that local governments in BC have the authority to regulate cannabis dispensaries, despite federal opposition.

The conference, held this year in Vancouver with representatives from across the province, saw the vote pass strongly in favour of moving forward with the cannabis industry, while Ottawa calls the operations illegal.

The vote is largely a symbolic gesture against the federal Conservative government’s policies on cannabis, as local governments already possess the ability to control land use within their borders.

Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said the decision was a response to the federal government’s unwillingness to provide reasonable, legal access to medical cannabis.

“We have to do it because they’re not doing their job. They are continuing to be at odds with the federal courts,” Deal said. “That leaves cities in the untenable position of not being able to deal with a product that is legal, yet opposed by the federal government. We have to use the controls and the tools that we have.”

Maple Ridge councillor Corisa Bell said the explosion of dispensaries across the province needed to be controlled, before it had a negative impact on communities.

“This rapid growth of unregulated businesses poses a significant risk to our youth, public health, and has an impact on our local economy,” Bell said. “If, however, they are carefully managed and regulated, these businesses can play a role in improving the health conditions that affect numerous people.”

This year, Vancouver became the first city in the country to attempt to regulate cannabis dispensaries. Early this summer the city began a review process to license its over 100 shops.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was “deeply disappointed by the City of Vancouver’s decision to ‘regulate’ illegal marijuana storefronts across the city” when the plan was announced, and that, “storefronts selling marijuana are illegal and under this Conservative Government will remain illegal.”

Earlier this month, Health Canada sent letters to 13 dispensaries, warning them that the RCMP would be called in if the businesses did not shut down.