The Vancouver Board of Variance rejected all four appeals from medical marijuana dispensary operations who had hoped to reverse the city’s previous decision to shut them down.

Tonight saw the first of 16 planned, bi-weekly meetings that will hear from the dozens of marijuana-related businesses that were denied a license by the city during its ongoing attempts to regulate the fast-spreading industry.

Cannpassion (2943 Kingsway), Vancity Medicinal Society (1299 Kingsway), BC Pain Society (2908 Commercial Dr) and Weeds Glass and Gifts Ltd. (3450 E Hastings St), now all must either shut down their operations or move to a new location that is compliant with city distance bylaws.

Cannabis Retailers and Growers Association founder Ian Dawkins represented Vancity Medicinal Society during the shop’s presentation to the board and said the city “pulled a bait-and-switch” on dispensaries.

“We were led to believe that the Board of Variance were going to be allowed to perform their normal due diligence on appeals, and what we found was an incredibly scripted experience,” said Dawkins. “The fact that the city’s chief planner is there, dictating terms to the Board of Variance and reminding them what the regulations are is completely unacceptable — talk about putting your thumb on the scale.”

Dawkins said it isn’t fair to the many reputable dispensaries that are being forced to shut down, while others, that he said were being run by “criminals,” are allowed to continue operation.

“The dispensary community is becoming politically organized now and I think the general public would listen to the arguments they make which is ‘we are responsible, reasonable, transparent businesses that want to do this correctly and you’re not letting us do it,'” said Dawkins.

The BC Pain Society’s appeal brought out roughly a dozen in opposition to the business, many of them from the nearby Stratford Hall private school, who said the dispensary would “entice youth” and that the nearby playground was being used as a “living room by people using the drug.”

Head of school Jason McBride said he was pleased that the board upheld the city’s initial decision to deny the business a license.

“We’re fully in support of the 300 metre minimum requirement and would be in support of extending that out, regardless of the hardship for a currently illegal business model,” said McBride. “I’m glad they’re not turning this into a referendum on whether medical marijuana is a pro or a con for society, it’s the fact that the bylaw currently stands as it is and we’re just happy that they upheld it.”

BC Pain Society operator Chuck Varabioff said he thought the board’s decision was biased and it had already made up its mind to deny his appeal before listening to his presentation.

“How do you prove hardship? I proved hardship. What more do they want? Do they want me to wheel in a million people with their legs and arms cut off, is that hardship? It doesn’t make sense,” Varabioff said. “Here I am doing the right thing and what do I get?”

Varabioff said even through he’s disappointed with the decision, he doesn’t plan to bring legal action against the city.

“It’s pointless to sue the city, you see what happens, if you sue the city it’s going to get absolutely nowhere,” he said.

The city’s assistant director of development services John Greer repeatedly reminded the board during discussion that the bylaws had already been decided previously during public consultation and should be followed.

“We went through public hearings and rigorous review of the way other cities do it, this is how Vancouver’s decided to do it,” said Greer. “We have to think about fairness and the public interest … the regulations have passed.”

Dawkins said the regulations should be flexible, pointing to Washington State which he said reduced the distance requirement for dispensaries from 1000 feet to 100 feet.

“Why is it that there can be flexibility in every other jurisdiction but the city of Vancouver?” Dawkins asked. “The idea that these regulations that the city of Vancouver wrote are somehow written on a tablet from Mount Sinai is insane.”

“Frankly, the amount of consultation they talk about is ridiculous, it was done overnight, they ran that through as quickly as possible.”

With all four of tonight’s appeals rejected, dispensary operators were unclear if any others would be more successful in their attempts to overturn previous rejections.

“I would almost guarantee that the compassion club would get grandfathered in,” said Varabioff. “I think the city has it predetermined who’s staying and who isn’t.”

The next Board of Variance meeting to deal with dispensary appeals is scheduled for Mar. 2, where the following operations will attempt to overturn their earlier rejections:

Green Cross Society of BC — 2145 Kingsway

St Urban Earth Medical Society — 4170 Fraser

BC Medical Marihuana Research Society — 610 SE Marine Dr

Lotusland Mount Pleasant Cannabis Society — 3187 Main St

Emilio Marrello — 1470 Commercial Dr