Vancouver Board of Variance Defers One Appeal, Denies All Others

Tonight’s appeal meeting to determine the fate of those medical cannabis dispensaries denied a business license by the city saw a first, as one of the appeals was deferred for additional information before board members could make a decision.

It was the second of 16 planned appeal hearings for medical marijuana related business applications heard by the Vancouver Board of Variance, which denied all other appeals.

The Board of Variance, a group made up of five city council appointed members, hears appeals from the public on previous city decisions around zoning, parking, development, signage, and tree issues. In all the cases heard tonight, the board looked at issues of “hardship” where the city’s previous rejection of an application may have been unjust, focusing on property specific restraints or special circumstances.

It meant applicants appealing based on grounds of their quality business practices or long history were ignored. The only instance of the board’s decision being slightly swayed came from applicants who pointed out physical distance discrepancies related to the city’s measurement process.

Lawyer and cannabis advocate Kirk Tousaw spoke to the board on behalf of his client, Lotusland Mount Pleasant Cannabis Society (3187 Main St), successfully planting doubt in board members’ minds that the distance between the dispensary and a nearby school was incorrectly determined.

City bylaws require dispensaries to be at least 300 metres away from schools, community centres and other cannabis operations.

“It’s troubling to me that so many of these dispensaries are running up against what appears to be inconsistent measurement of the 300 metre distance requirements,” Tousaw said. “Frankly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me — why are we measuring as the crow flies, when the intent is foot traffic from schools passing by the dispensaries? As I said in the hearing, ‘students don’t fly’ they walk or take buses on city streets.”

His argument also brought up the original measurements between Lotusland and the school it’s conflicted with. Tousaw stated that the city shouldn’t be measuring the distance from the entire building the business in question inhabits, but rather the single unit it’s located in within that structure, which can offer a difference in measurement that could be the difference between compliance with bylaws.

Board member Martha Welsh said the city’s measurement bylaws were unclear and that, while school zones were clearly indicated from where their measurements would begin, the starting-point from which dispensary measurement was to begin was not indicated (11.28.2).

“We measure property line to property line, we don’t measure door to door,” said Vancouver development services assistant director John Greer. “The city’s trying to be fair in the way we do this so we have to be consistent.

But the board deferred voting one way or the other on Lotusland, giving city officials the task of re-measuring the distance from the dispensary, before returning to another appeal meeting, July 27.

“It seems to me that if you are in the far end of a building and your only access to the street is facing a street that a school’s not even on, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to measure to the back end of the building that’s totally inaccessible to any member of the public,” said Tousaw. “That doesn’t seems to be fair or logical in any way.”

The lawyer said he expected to come back in the summer with some additional clarity on the exact distance from the school to the dispensary.

“I suspect it’s going to be quite close and that’s the point at which you would ask the Board of Variance to relax that strict 300 meters, because of the hardship that’s caused to the critical and chronically ill patients that rely on Lotusland for medicine,” said Tousaw.

The deferment was the only change in an otherwise uniform set of decisions from the board, who denied all other applicants – all on the 300 metre distance requirements that had cost them their licences in the first place.

Green Cross Society operations manager Rohan Gardiner was one of those denied his appeal, and said afterward that the board was unjust in its dismissal of his operation, the second oldest in the city after 11 years in business.

“This is very disappointing, I thought they’d be on more of a compassionate grounds and see clubs like us,” said Gardiner. “We have a dedication to our members, we’re a true non-profit and we have a donation program and a lot of individuals who rely on our services.”

Gardiner, who also manages another location that has moved forward in the license application process said, based on what he saw at the board, he wasn’t sure anyone would successfully appeal their license.

“I don’t think they’re going to give an inch to anybody, we’ve been there 11 years,” he said. “This [process] was much needed, it’s too bad it didn’t happen a long time ago before all these places opened up. I think they need to be more on compassionate grounds and realistic situations.”

Tousaw was more optimistic that appeals would be successful going forward, pointing to the board’s role to “relax or vary the strict application of zoning requirements imposed by the city.”

He brought attention to cases reviewed by the same board earlier that afternoon, that saw non-cannabis related property owners contest decisions made related to zoning bylaws such as home additions and modifications.

“Many of those applications were granted because it made sense to grant them,” Tousaw said. “Surely if that’s the case for somebody building a deck or moving a tree it ought to also be the case for somebody attempting to serve the city of Vancouver and its sick and suffering citizens in a responsible way.”

The next Board of Variance meeting is scheduled for Apr. 6, where the following operations will attempt to overturn their earlier rejections:

211 E 16th Ave — TBD (formerly Weeds Glass& Gifts)

3357 W 4th Ave  — Point Grey Cannabis Ltd

3634 W 4th Ave — Karuna Health Foundation

1938 W Broadway — Karuna Health Foundation