Vancouver dishes out $11,000 in fines to pot dispensaries
The City of Vancouver handed out 44 tickets of $250 to unlicensed pot shops over the weekend. May 2, 2016. (CTV)
Bylaw inspectors for the City of Vancouver had a busy weekend, issuing $11,000 in fines to unlicensed marijuana dispensaries that defied Friday’s closure deadline.
Coun. Kerry Jang said 22 pot shops have complied by shutting their doors, but city staff handed out 44 violation tickets of $250 each to locations that refused.
“I was very pleased with the results,” Jang said. “It certainly showed me there are a number of people in the marijuana industry who want to work cooperatively with the city. There’s a little more follow-up work to do, but that’s not unusual.”
Not everyone has welcomed the city’s approach to licensing, however. Jang said he received a threatening phone call during a pro-dispensary protest outside City Hall on Friday.
“This one took on a tone of, ‘I’m going to come and get you, we’re going to get you, we’re going to come and find you,’” he said. “That was quite concerning because I’ve never had a call like that before.”
Dispensaries that continue to flout the city’s deadline will face increasing enforcement action, Jang added, including steeper fines. The daily tickets businesses face could soon be increased to $750, according to the councillor.
Marijuana advocate Jodie Emery called the city’s handling of dispensaries “heavy-handed” and “discriminatory,” arguing it targeted the industry with unnecessarily strict regulations.
“Children buy candy where cigarettes are sold,” she said. “Dispensaries do no harm and they exist because of supply and demand, and the majority of Canadians support them.”
A whopping 162 of the 176 applications for pot business licences in Vancouver failed, most due to a rule barring dispensaries from operating within 300 metres of each other, or of schools, community centres and youth facilities.
By comparison, liquor stores must only keep a distance of 150 metres from any “church, park, elementary or secondary school, community centre or neighbourhood house,” according to the city’s guidelines.
Emery argued that even before the city got involved, dispensaries did a good job of refusing to sell to minors.
“We are not going to open the Pot for Tots shop,” she said.
Vancouver has threatened to seek court injunctions to forcefully close dispensaries that continue to operate without a licence, but some store owners have vowed to pursue their own legal options in order to stay open.
“Many dispensaries, especially the activist owned dispensaries, will stay open. Some will pay the fines, others will challenge the fines in court,” Emery said.
One of their arguments is that closing the majority of pot shops in the city needlessly limits patients’ access to medicine. Jang said the city has tried to find a balance between regulating the industry and keeping pot accessible to people who need it.