The City of Vancouver’s dispensary business licensing program has, so far, allowed 14 locations, out of 176 applications, to move forward in the process and one of them hopes the new regulations will mean a better experience for patients.
Apollo Medical Society is one of the newest stores that have been listed by the city on their development application site, and store manager Matt said he expected a few more to join them before the initial round of approvals is finished.
“It’s been quite the process with the city, they’re definitely trying to knock the numbers down, they’ve only approved 14 to move forward so far out of 176, so we feel pretty lucky to have our one location moving to the next step,” said Matt, who requested his last name not be used. “It looks like there’s only approximately 25 or 30 that there’s room for, based on the requirements the city has put on zoning.”
If his estimates are accurate, it means the vast majority of Vancouver’s near 100 dispensaries will be told to shut down, making the few remaining spots highly coveted.
“We have five or six applications in with the city,” said Matt “Like many others we’re looking for real estate but, based on the bylaws he city has put forth with the minimum distances, there’s not a whole lot out there.”
Matt said he understands what the city is trying to accomplish to get a handle on the fast growing industry, and supports their efforts to deal with problem businesses that might have ties to organized crime or aren’t selling to medical patients.
“Hopefully, the people that aren’t running things above board, no pun intended, are weeded out,” said Matt. “On a case-to-case basis it’s a tough call — some [dispensaries] are getting the go-ahead while others have been operating for years and they’ve got a great customer and patient relationship built up, and they really are helping and serving people, and some of those aren’t going to be able to move forward.”
Matt said, ultimately, when the licensing process is complete, he hopes operators respect the city’s regulations.
“For the people who are following the rules and going down the city process, for those people I’m sure they want to see the city stick to what they said is going to happen and have the rest shut down,” he said.
While Vancouver moves forward with its licensing process, the federal and provincial governments are in the early stages of their own work toward legalization, something that’s looming over all dispensary operators who may go through the city’s system, only to be faced with new rules within the next year.
“It’s definitely on our mind, but it’s all just speculation. we don’t know for sure if it will happen or when it will happen so the only thing left to do is follow the rules and do what the city said,” said Matt. “It’s an interesting time to be in this business, there’s variables like that that we just don’t know.”
One of those variables is the supply and regulation of cannabis as legalization becomes a reality in Canada, something that Matt said has room to improve.
“There’s so many things that just haven’t been addressed with testing and where the product’s coming from and labelling and all these things,” Matt said. “We need to make sure that there’s quality assurance – very similar to the pharmacy industry.”
An example Matt would like to see followed is the stringent requirements Health Canada has put in place around the country’s medical licensed cannabis producer program.
“The security and quality assurance is very high – that’s the way that it should be for a medical product,” Matt said. “Dispensaries should be working with the licensed producers and have similar rules and regulations to follow.”
Matt said he would prefer changes to current rules to allow the licensed producers to supply dispensaries like Apollo, to provide “quality assurance with the product.”
“I hope that we are able to work with the licensed producers – that way we know where everything’s coming from. It’s all regulated, it’s all tested, then we can provide a better service for the patients,” said Matt. “Right now there’s nothing in place for that. There’s no testing in place, there’s no mandatory packaging — there should be.”
Matt and Apollo, along with the other 13 applications to move on to the next stage of the licensing process, are now waiting for word from the city, who are themselves waiting for public feedback on the business locations.
“I hope people can wrap their heads around this idea, it’s happening all over Vancouver and it’s a better thing if they’re operating the way they should be,” Matt said.
“It’s medical now and we must follow those rules, but we all know it’s not for a lot of people – there’s a huge recreational crowd. I think under Trudeau’s regime [legalization] might happen in the next two to three years.”