Dispensaries and Zoning in VancouverAs we all know by now the city of Vancouver is making the bold move of usurping the will, and perhaps authority, of the federal government and will be regulating medical cannabis dispensaries and zoning in Vancouver. While we applaud the progressive governance, we are hesitant to do so without concern or dissent. Such a move towards the end of prohibition must be done carefully, and with the consultation of the learned and informed community of activists, entrepreneurs, and academics. City planners, growers, constabularies, sociologists, small business owners, educators, councillors, and patients alike must be involved so as to ensure a streamlined and successful transition to a positive new reality, and not as a means of ensuring bureaucracy. This is happening. Let’s do it right.

When Vancouver’s City Manager Penny Ballem introduced the policy in late April, she did so with quiet apprehension and scepticism from her colleagues. Part of the concern was about where the dispensaries would be allowed to operate. As we wrote at the time:

“Ballem took examples from Colorado and Washington, particularly Seattle, Denver, and Boulder. The list of regulations Ballem brought into her report were regarded as ‘Best Practice’, despite only a year to evaluate the results and limited opportunities for comparison with other legal regimes. This included regulating where dispensaries go and how far they are from each other and other “sensitive” zones. No multi-purpose dispensaries (i.e. a movie theatre that offers medicated popcorn) and no mall outlets allowed. Criminal record checks would be required, as would liability insurance and security features. The city also looked at limiting operating hours, disallowing sampling, banning minors, capping the number of dispensaries, and limiting the number of licences per person…

…In her presentation, Ballem showed us a model that took into account the existing dispensaries and their geographical proximity to schools, community centres, childcare centres, library and each other. Again, why competing dispensaries close to each other should be discouraged by the state was not addressed. What was addressed were the different distances and variations of the ‘land-use conflict.’”

The limitations of a business, and medical service, on where it can operate raised red flags in the community. But Jade Maple has developed an exclusive tool for the discourse: Amap (above) which shows all dispensaries overlap with an exclusion zone, or another dispensary, and as such are in violation of the proposed zoning regulations. Caleb McMillan spoke with Jade Maple’s President Chris Horlacher, and Chief Legal Officer Robert Laurie, about the tool and how it illuminates greater challenges.

Caleb McMillan: So, your mapping tool shows that all dispensaries are either overlapping or in zone which includes schools or community centres. Was this a surprise?

Chris Horlacher: No. It would make sense that a dispensary would be in these areas. We would imagine that pharmacies, drop-in clinics, fire departments, police departments, and grocery stores are also in these zones—entities that inform and improve the life of a community’s inhabitants. Do you want to drive six hours for cold medication? For milk? For help?

Caleb McMillan: Who is the tool for?

Chris Horlacher: It’s for all concerned parties. We want the electorate to have a visual representation of the inadequacies of the proposed policy and how those inadequacies are laughable once placed in a simple geographical context.

Caleb McMillan: Why did you take it upon yourselves to develop the tool?

Chris Horlacher: It’s simply another resource for our clients to better understand communities they operate in, and to better understand the hypocrisy and bureaucracy of even the most progressive governments at all levels.

Caleb McMillan: What strikes you as hypocritical?

Chris Horlacher: The same municipal government only puts a 150-metre imposition on liquor stores and no restrictions on pharmacies, not that we endorse such limitations. But, even the most ardent anti-drug conservative can see the double standard on limiting a patients’ reasonable access to a legal medication.

Robert Laurie: The key here is reasonable access. Regulating all dispensaries out of business clearly raises some legal questions regarding a patient’s right to reasonable access.

Caleb McMillan: Do you think that the city will amend its zoning plans?

Robert Laurie: Any resident of these communities can easily see that the city’s plan is impossible to impose. If we’re to regulate any industry, we advocate fairness and responsibility to the electorate, to entrepreneurs, to parents, to patients, to children. Communities are built on inclusion not exclusion, and this proposal is an example of exclusionary policy at its worst.