Vancouver Dispensaries Fighting Back Against City’s Process

Vancouver dispensary operators will be at City Hall today to dispute fines they’ve received after not shutting down by the Apr. 29 deadline.

Vancity Medicinals, Green Cross Society Of BC and BC Pain Society will appear at City Hall at 1 pm over what BC Pain Society operator Chuck Varabioff called an unfair process.

Varabioff said he’s received two tickets so far totalling $500 and claimed that the application of the city’s new rules around dispensaries hasn’t been applied fairly.

“It’s really showing me that the city and bylaw enforcement officers really have an agenda, because some places are being ticketed, other places aren’t,” Varabioff said.

While Varabioff’s Renfrew location has received a development permit, his Commercial Drive location was denied and then lost a subsequent appeal with the Board of Variance.

The dispensary owner said his appearance during the first week of the appeal process was a detriment, as the board has seemingly relaxed its considerations for appeals as the process has gone on (no appeals were granted during the first hearing while three out of four of appeals were granted this week, the fifth hearing).

“A lot of times going first is a good thing, unfortunately, for me, it was the worst thing,” he said. “The board was so new to the whole marijuana program, or product, or business, that they just said ‘no, no, no’ and upheld everything that [the city] told them to uphold.”

Green Cross Society operations manager Rohan Gardiner said during his hearing, at the second meeting, rules were a lot more stringent than they seem to be now.

“When we there they said giving an inch is like giving a mile and now, since then, they’ve changed their policies,” Gardiner said.

Board of Variance secretary Louis Ng confirmed that the Board has changed its procedure since the first meeting.

“If you sat in at the last several meetings, then you will also notice that the Board is allowing more time for the appellants to present their hardship, and the appellants have now brought more speakers to the appeal hearings,” Ng wrote, in an email.

Gardiner said while he understands that the medical cannabis issue may be new to the Boar dof Variance, their guidelines haven’t been the most transparent.

“They’ve kind of made up the process as they’ve gone along,” Gardiner said. “They’re learning, and we’re learning but ,at the same time, being the second oldest club in the city, I feel that we have an obligation to our members to stay open.”

Varabioff said before he attended his appeal hearing he was given instruction by Ng on how to make his presentation, instruction that he said cost him his case.

“He told me ‘don’t take a lawyer, because it will work against you.’ He said, ‘don’t take a bunch of people there to support you, because it just fills up the room and the board will look at in a negative way because it’s not a popularity contest,’” Varabioff said. “Everything he told me that I shouldn’t do, I should have done the opposite.

“If I would have done that, and I hadn’t been in the first weeks of the process, I would have come out of there victorious.”

Ng said at least four appellants, including Varabioff, have filed petitions to the B.C. Supreme Court seeking a judicial review of their appeals.

“Filing a judicial review to Supreme Court of BC is the only place to appeal if the business operators are unsatisfied with the Board’s decisions,” Ng said. “The Supreme Court judge can order the Board of Variance to ‘re-hear’ the appeal if one finds an error in the appeal process, and unfortunately the outcome (at the second appeal hearing) may be the same.”

Gardiner, who has also field a petition, and plans to stay open, said he hopes to have another chance to be heard at the Board, even though it could take months to get back in front of them.