city hall

Board of Variance Approves Three of Four Appeals

It was a busy night for lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who represented three of the four medical dispensaries appealing their City of Vancouver business license rejection at the Board of Variance.

Tousaw successfully argued for two of his three clients to move on to the next stage of the city’s process.

The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary (1182 Thurlow St) and Sunrise Wellness Kingsway Foundation (2943 Kingsway) both made it through, along with Farm Dispensary (369 Columbia) which was represented by its owner and manager at the hearing.

Tousaw’s other client, MediCanna ( 3673 E Hastings St), was unsuccessful in its appeal.

“I’m certainly very pleased with the results for two of my clients,” said Tousaw, after the meeting. “Unfortunately, the third was unsuccessful and he’s going to have to consider what his next options are.”

The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary led the proceedings with a presentation that filled the meeting room with supporters of the six-year-old operation.

“While I’m glad we got a variance, I am still opposed to the whole process and Vision’s arbitrary and poorly composed bylaws,” manager and director Dana Larsen wrote in a Facebook post, following the decision. “I will continue to fight for a better system that doesn’t treat dispensaries more strictly than liquor stores.”

A second location for The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary at 880 E Hastings St will have an appeal hearing Sep. 7.

Tousaw’s arguments for second appellant of the night, MediCanna, which included that there was little chance students would pass by the dispensary on the edge of Vancouver weren’t accepted by the board, which voted unanimously to reject the appeal.

Farm Dispensary was more successful, with a presentation from manager Cait Hurley that highlighted the shop’s connection and service to the downtown east side, where workers regularly volunteer to clean up refuse and hypodermic needles that litter the neighbourhood.

Also strongly helping the dispensary’s case was the Carnegie Community Centre, which, although automatically disqualifying Farm from a license because of it’s vicinity, gave its support to the shop because its programming caters more to adult residents of the area instead of youth.

“I think we had a very unique case and we represent a population with very real needs — the downtown east side,” said Hurley.

Hurley, who has attended every Board of Variance meeting so far, said she learned a lot watching the same arguments repeat for separate businesses and paid attention to the language used in each case, both successful and unsuccessful.

“Just go out into your community,” Hurley recommended to future appellants. “If you’re in proximity to a school, go to the school — find out what their needs are, find out who your community is and how you can serve them.”

Before the vote on Farm, Vancouver assistant director of planning John Geer, requested that board members attach a caveat to their vote of support that Farm agree to consult with the nearby Chinese Cultural Centre, which had made a presentation against the dispensary.

The final appellant, Sunrise Wellness Kingsway Foundation, found support from the board based on the almost 300 metre distance of the shop from a nearby school and, more directly, the barrier imposed by Kingsway road, which Greer described as an arterial or “significant road.”

“If you were to look at traffic counts from the city it would be constant,” Greer said. “It’s never not busy.”

Sunrise’s direct neighbour, Cannpassion (2943 Kingsway), had its appeal heard at the first Board of Variance meeting, Feb. 17, and lost, despite being in almost the exact same physical location.

Tousaw said tonight’s successful appeal doesn’t represent any sort of loosening of requirements from the board.

“I think the Board of Variance assesses each case on a case-by-case basis,” Tousaw said. “Each case is judged on its own merits and so, to the extent that there’s a pattern, I think that that will only become apparent in the months and weeks to come.”

Even with the successful appeals tonight, dispensaries aren’t guaranteed to receive business licences and only qualify to continue to the next stage of the licensing process.

The next Board of Variance hearing is scheduled for May 18.