Officials from across British Columbia attended the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Vancouver this week where delegates heard how the dispensary situation in the province draws parallels to Washington State.

Tonia Winchester, a US lawyer that helped to push for legalization in Washington, told attendees that Seattle, like Vancouver, began issuing business licenses in the city to regulate the spread of dispensaries, even while the drug remained illegal, federally.

“Washington state is breaking federal law because it’s still illegal for anyone to possess marijuana,” said Winchester. “The feds could go in every retail store and shut it down.”

Winchester said Vancouver is positioned to begin pushing for recreational legalization in the province.

Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang, who is involved in the city’s current dispensary regulation effort, predicted the city will be sued in the future over cannabis regulations, potentially by dispensary owners that are denied a licence. But Jang said the city had to act on the rising number unregulated dispensaries that began to spring up across Vancouver with no guidelines on advertising or location.

“It’s new ground so we’re taking chances,” Jang said.

City officials from outside Vancouver have closely followed the larger city’s policies on cannabis, but are waiting for direction from the federal government, for fear of punishment.

Nanaimo councillor Jerry Hong said, over the last two years, his city has seen the number of dispensaries go from two to nine, with many of them advertising in town in the street with flags.

“It ruins their reputation,” Hong said. “We’d like to see what we can do about it. I don’t think we can wait.”

Fernie Councillor Jonathan Levesque said with residents in his city requesting access to dispensaries he thought Winchester’s presentation sounded like a “form of local government civil disobedience” that could work in Canada.

“I don’t know how we can ignore what’s happening to the south of us,” Levesque said.