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City of Vancouver Says It Could Take Over a Year To Shut Down Dispensaries

Despite promising that medical dispensary bylaws would put an end to many of Vancouver‘s cannabis shops, City officials admit that they have no timeline for the end of the process.

Vancouver director of licensing Andreea Toma said it could still take more than a year to force the 61 dispensaries, that were unsuccessful in their bid to obtain a business license, to close.

A month into the city’s enforcement, 139 $250 bylaw violation tickets have been issued to shops, with many dispensaries contesting the fines and taking legal action with the city’s process, moves that could allow the operations to keep their doors open well into next year, when legalization legislation is expected from the federal government.

Toma said while the City’s enforcement program hasn’t been successful immediately, the shops will eventually fall into line.

“Enforcement is enforcement, there is a strategy behind it, we’re not coming at this being naive, we are thinking about this, we are trying to be strategic and calculated in terms of what’s going to give us the best result,” Toma said. “We need to continue because we’ve made a commitment to the taxpayers, residents and the business community that this would be a fair and consistent process and when we enacted the bylaw we knew that enforcement was part of it.”

Lawyer Kirk Tousaw said the City is being careful not to crack down too hard and create a political issue.

“They’ve got to walk a pretty fine line, so I’m not surprised it’s taking a long time to achieve compliance,” said Tousaw. “This is new ground for everybody; I don’t know why anybody would be in a rush to see things happen.”

A motion last week from councillor Melissa De Genova requested staff give regular updates on the number of bylaw officers being used for dispensary enforcement, the costs of the ticketing program and the cost of lawsuits brought against the city from dispensaries.

Vancouver’s approach of dealing with business owners to self-enforce compares to Toronto’s, where the city is threatening landlords of dispensaries directly with fines if the shops don’t shut down — 64 landlords have been requested to shut down cannabis operations on their properties.

Toma said Vancouver isn’t able to go after landlords when businesses are in violation of medical marijuana rules, but has been notifying them when the shops are fined.

“We have a number of landlords [who have contacted city hall and asked], ‘What do you want me to do? You want me to evict [them]?’” Toma said. “[We tell them,] ‘Really that’s up to you and the level of risk that you’re comfortable to take.’”

Toma said, of the 139 tickets handed out, 12 have been given to one shop that never entered into the city’s licensing program in the first place, showing how difficult enforcing the city’s rules can be.